Mott

Trainer Bill Mott faced a larger than usual post-Derby media scrum after a disqualification made his colt, Country House, the Derby winner. WDRB Photo/Rick Bozich

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The Kentucky Derby favorite rolls into the winner’s circle for the seventh straight year and blah, blah, blah.

Honk if you’ve heard that one before.

A hopeless 65-to-1 longshot roars down the stretch to win the blanket of roses and yada, yada, yada.

Didn’t Mine That Bird just do the Long Shot Thing?  No buzz there.

On Saturday horse racing found a way to become the talk of the town — and the country. 

When you get to work Monday morning, expect somebody to get your take on what happened at Churchill Down Saturday. Move over Steph Curry, Tom Brady and Bryce Harper. The Kentucky Derby and horse racing have been injected into the national sports talk conversation again -- and not about horse breakdowns.

Bumping in the stretch. Instant replay. Derby winner taken down. Holy hot button.

Take your position — and defend it.

“There’s going to be a lot of conversation,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “A lot of callers calling in.”

And a lot of people taking calls. I took three from Westwood One radio, KMOX in St. Louis and KFAN in Minneapolis before 10:30 a.m. Those places have usually returned to the NFL Draft or baseball by now.

Was it a good call?

Yes, Maximum Security had to come down, even after the colt crossed the finish line first. The Derby favorite and his jockey, Luis Saez, interfered with at least three other horses with less than three-eighths of a mile to run.

No, Terrible call.

You can’t do that in the Kentucky Derby. That’s just race riding. Never happened in the Derby — and Saturday wasn’t the first time horses got knocked around. Happens in the first turn every year. It’s a signature part of the Derby’s rodeo allure.

Unsatisfying call. The stewards made a winner of a horse who was only involved on the periphery of the bumping incident and was far from the best horse in the race.

Pick up lines one, two, three and four. Since the end of the NFL season there’s been a fierce debate about the creeping influence of instant replay in the adjudication of sports events. Horse racing has long used replay but never this way on a stage like this.

Maximum Security came down, pushed from first to 17th.

Country House moved from first to second. Some paused to embrace the winner because Country House was not the one most compromised by the incident. Hang an asterisk on his roses. 

War of Will nearly stopped. Long Range Toddy was turned sideways and lost at least four lengths. Country House benefitted while those horses suffered more.

Those are the rules of horse racing.

“I’m not going to say something as foolish as I’m sorry I won because I’m not going to give (my team) the impression that I’m unhappy about winning because I’m not,” said Bill Mott, the trainer of Country House. “I’m thrilled.

“I’m thrilled with the horse. I’m thrilled with everybody that’s worked with the horse. And I think they deserve the win. It’s just such an unusual way to go to the winner’s circle and win a Kentucky Derby.

“This Kentucky Derby will be talked about for a long time. I think it will be up there with (jockey Bill) Shoemaker standing up at the sixteenth pole (and misguiding the finish line while losing the 1958 Derby on Gallant Man.)”

My initial take was the stewards made the wrong call. 

You don’t take down the Derby winner for the first time in the history of the race unless the bumping was more severe than the bumping that occurred Saturday.

I was wrong. The stewards were right.

I changed my mind after watching more replays, especially the head-on angle. Saez and Maximum Security made a serious and reckless right turn as the field surged into the final turn.

Fortunately, War of Will did not go down. Neither did Long Range Toddy, whose jockey, Jon Court, did a masterful job of keeping his horse from tumbling. Bodexpress also took a hit.

“The stewards had to take him down,” trainer Mark Casse said. His horse was War of Will, who escaped with several nicks on his front legs but was bounding with energy at his barn Sunday morning.

“It doesn’t matter that it was the Kentucky Derby. We have rules. Not only did he put lives in danger … horses could have been killed, riders could have been killed.

“It was a no-brainer.”

“I don’t think it was anything the jockey did,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. His colt, Code of Honor, was moved up to second place.

“The horse just ducked out. (Maximum Security) bolted … it was just too bad … off what I saw in the pictures, I think they did the right thing. They took their time about it and I think they made the right call. That’s what you want.”

The stewards had to act. I talked to four trainers other than Mott on Sunday morning — and all agreed.

The puzzling thing about Casse’s opinion was that neither he nor his jockey, filed an objection.

“We talked for a second about claiming (foul),” Casse said. “We did not … Why, so we can be sixth? … If somebody fouls me should I take the biggest win (of somebody’s) life away so I can be sixth? No, it’s just not going to happen.”

Court did see the point of objecting, even though Long Range Toddy finished 16th. He was the first rider who talked to the stewards. Mott said decided to do something after Jose Ortiz, the jockey on his other Derby horse, Tacitus, told him what happened.

Mott quickly advised Flavian Prat to get in line behind Court. 

After 22 minutes, the three stewards unanimously agreed. It wasn’t the smoothest appeal. Took too long. Left some questions the stewards should have answered, especially why the stewards were not the ones who started the process.

“I don’t think riders should have to claim foul,” Casse said. “I think it’s up to the stewards to make those decisions. These guys you want them to, men and women, to work every day beside each other and get along. 

“They shouldn’t put the riders in that predicament. They’re friends. They ride ride with them every day. I wish they could put more inquiries up a little earlier.”

But the decision was the correct decision. Unsatisfying, but correct.

“I feel bad for the Wests (who own Maximum Security),” Casse said. “I do. I feel bad for Jason Servis (his trainer). I feel bad for Luis Saez.

“I feel bad for Bill Mott because you’ll have a hard time finding a classier man than Bill Mott and I know that’s not the way that he wanted to win the Kentucky Derby.”

The game can market this forward. The Preakness becomes a Must See Moment in Baltimore. 

Mott has never been gaga about the second leg of the Triple Crown but on Sunday morning he said that he understood he must take Country House to Pimlico. It’s the surest way he can prove his colt was not a fluke Derby winner.

Ditto for Servis and the disqualified Maximum Security. The connections for that colt weren’t at Churchill Sunday morning, but they’ve got to press ahead to Baltimore to show their colt remains the best 3-year-old in training.

Casse said that he plans to bring War of Will. McGaughey would not commit but talked as if the Preakness was a possibility if Code of Honor remained sound. Sounds like more than your average Preakness.

Nobody got hurt, other than the feelings and the bank account of the connections to Maximum Security. 

“It’s just one of those things that’s not going to go away,” Mott said. “But we’re going to take the win.”

Tune in May 18 as the rivalry is renewed. Racing has its chance to be the talk of the town.

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