Kentucky Derby: Country House ‘leaning toward’ Triple Crown shot
Country House is likely to run in the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, in the wake of its controversial victory in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
Maximum Security crossed the line first at Churchill Downs, but was later demoted to 17th for impeding other horses during a feisty race, handing victory to the unfancied Country House.
The Bill Mott-trained colt now has a chance of becoming only the 14th winner of the celebrated Triple Crown, although the May 18 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, Baltimore is not a given.
“We’re leaning toward the Preakness, since he is the Derby winner and we don’t want to pooh-pooh the Triple Crown,” said Mott in a news release from Pimlico Race Course at Churchill Downs.
He added in an interview with CNN: “If he’s doing very well, we will. I don’t feel like we’ve got any pressure to go other than the fact that the Derby winner usually goes to the Preakness and people are looking forward to seeing him there.
“We’re going to monitor his progress in the next week and 10 days and then decide.”
The owner of Maximum Security, Gary West, said his horse won’t be running in the Preakness. West filed an appeal against the disqualification, but this was rejected by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Monday. His attorney Barry Stilz told CNN his client is exploring additional legal options.
Last year the Bob Baffert-trained Justify became only the 13th Triple Crown champion after winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on Long Island.
Only once since the first Triple Crown triumph by Sir Barton in 1919 have there been back-to-back Triple Crown winners — Seattle Slew won in 1978 and was followed by Affirmed a year later.
Since the Triple Crown began, 23 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but missed out on the Belmont Stakes, the most recent of which was California Chrome in 2014. This year’s Belmont Stakes is set for June 8.
“I know if we run in the Preakness, running back that soon, you’re taking a bigger risk of him not running well, just because of the timing,” added Mott.
Maximum Security’s demotion was the second time a horse had been disqualified after winning at Churchill Downs; the victory of Dancer’s Image was scratched in 1968 after it was discovered he failed a drugs test.
President Trump tweeted after the race that “the decision was not a good one,” saying it was “political correctness” that had led to the result being overturned.
With pre-race odds of 65-1, Country House was the second biggest longshot ever to win the Kentucky Derby.
“I know the stewards had a very, very difficult decision and I’m glad I wasn’t in their shoes,” Mott said after the race. “I’m glad I didn’t have to make the decision in front of over 100,000 people.”
Horse racing announcer Mike Battaglia told CNN there was an “unwritten rule” that officials give riders and horses more leeway in the Kentucky Derby, backing stewards for sticking to the rules.
“You can’t erase the fact he [Maximum Security] did come over and hinder the other horses’ chances but the stewards were following the rules of racing,” said Battaglia. “If you don’t follow the rules you harm the integrity of the whole sport.”