Controversy at Churchill Downs


Kyle Platt

On the first Saturday in May each year, common Americans turn into professional gamblers and gather with family and friends to view the “most exciting two minutes in sports.” They scream at their television sets as 20 of the fastest horses in the world race around the track at the famous Churchill Downs racetrack. The owners and trainers of each horse watch in nervous agony as they try to will their horse across the finish line in first place. If their horse does win, they take home over $1 million in prize money, and, more importantly, the renowned title of Kentucky Derby winner.

Last Saturday, that instantaneous feeling of euphoria overcame the owners of Maximum Security who crossed the finish line with a substantial lead over the other horses. That feeling was short-lived, however, as about fifteen minutes later an announcement came over the grounds that Maximum Security had been disqualified and the new winner was the horse that came in second, Country House.

While Maximum Security had led the race the whole way, he cut to the middle of the track around one of the turns, impeding the course of three horses: War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Country House. Although it seemed like Maximum Security had won, the teams of Country House and another horse filed an inquiry after the race, prompting the stewards at Churchill Downs to review the race over and over to see if there was any evidence which would disqualify Maximum Security. After what seemed like an eternity, the stewards announced that Maximum Security was indeed disqualified and Country House, whose odds to win were 65-1, was the new champion.

The decision has sparked major controversy not only in the racing world, but across the country. This is the first time in the race’s 145 year history that the winner has been disqualified, so it is understandable that some have passionate views on such a landmark decision.
President Trump chimed in on Twitter, remarking, “The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one…Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur.” For the most part, critics say that the best horse, Maximum Security, won the race and that void of interference, there still wasn’t a chance he would lose so even if he did interfere slightly, he still deserves the crown. On the other hand, supporters of the decision say that even if Country House wouldn’t have won, rules are rules and Maximum Security had to be disqualified.

Now, the decision is final as Maximum Security’s owner, Gary West, filed an appeal Monday which was denied by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commision. It is the biggest race of the year, so whatever decision the stewards made would have likely been heavily criticized. This race, though, does set a precedent for the future of complaints made not only in the Kentucky Derby, but in a multitude of other races and there will probably be much more controversy to come. One thing is certain: if you bet on Country House, you were pretty lucky.