There will forever be an asterisk on the 145th Kentucky Derby because a young colt on the verge of history freaked out in front of 150,000 fans and veered to the right, not knowing there was another horse behind him.
Replays showed Maximum Security moving in front of War of Will so closely that their legs seemed to touch several times. War of Will seemed to slow down to avoid a collision and moved right, bumping into Country House on the outside. Maximum Security, challenged by Code of Honor in the stretch, found a second gear and won the Derby going away.
Country House finished second. War of Will faded to seventh.
But the stewards took his name down and instead awarded the Derby to Country House, who finished second in the race and had won only one race in six starts.
The best horse won the race, discounting the two-mile trip Game Winner took around the outside fencing. But he also impeded the progress of War of Will. And the rules state that the horse causing the infraction should be disqualified. And that’s what the stewards did.
That doesn’t mean the decision doesn’t make me sick to my stomach; it’s a shame that this had to happen, and it’s not the way a Derby is supposed to end. We’re supposed to marvel at one horse’s ability to overcome the odds (literally) and defeat 18-19 other horses falling on top of each other (figuratively) on their way to immortality and a shot at becoming a superhorse.
Some say this was a good decision for horse racing, focusing on the safety of the horses in the wake of the tragedies at Santa Anita. But casual racing fans all wondered why they had to wait 20 minutes to find out that the best horse didn’t win. There was confusion everywhere, replays from every angle, and thousands of fans arguing about whether there was an infraction and whether the stewards made the right call.
And we’re left with a two-time winner taking the Derby by default, and an asterisk. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.