Derby Winner Disqualified; Dark Horse Wins by Default

Maximum Security Photo Credit: USA Today

In a first, the apparent winner of The Kentucky Derby, Maximum Security, the favorite at 4-1, was disqualified for interference. As Maximum Security came around the final turn, the horse reacted to the crowd noise, according to jockey Luis Saez. Maximum Security briefly veered off his lane on the rail, causing contact with War of Will as Country House made a strong push for the finish. While Country House was not directly impacted by the incident, jockey Flavien Prat filed an objection. After a prolonged review, the race stewards ultimately disqualified Maximum Security, which had fought off Country House’s late push to finish first by a length and a half.

While there have been other objections raised in the past over the Derby, there has only been one incident in which the horse that finished first was disqualified. That occurred in 1968 when Dancer’s Image was disqualified after a drug test detected a prohibited anti-inflammatory substance in the horse’s bloodstream. Other claims of foul, including a tussle between the jockeys riding the first two finishers in 1933, were not sustained. The only other successful claim that was sustained by race stewards involved a swap of fourth and fifth place finishers in 1984 for interference.

As Country House was awarded the coveted blanket of roses, many in the Churchill Downs crowd of 150,000 booed. The incident raises the quintessential question in sports: at what point does video review and the concomitant ramifications for the sports betting public impede the integrity of the contest? Maximum Security had surged to the front of the pack out of the gate, leading the field throughout the race, even after shying at the noise. There is little doubt that he was the fastest horse on the messy track today. Were it not for the tremendous financial consequences of the storied race, especially given the incredible odds Country House carried at 65-1, would Maximum Security have been disqualified? At what cost the obsessive adherence to the dictates of the video replay gods? It would be different if there were any argument that foul play or inordinate advantage were somehow implicated. Unfortunately, it would appear that today’s events portend continuing and even escalating deference to video evidence over athletic authenticity and good sportsmanship.

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Helen A. “Nellie” Drew is an expert in sports law, including professional and amateur sports issues ranging from NCAA compliance and Title IX matters to facility construction, discipline of professional athletes, collective bargaining and franchise issues. Drew formerly served as an officer and in-house counsel to the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, after previously working as outside counsel to the Sabres and the NHL. Among her more interesting experiences were assisting former USSR superstar Alexander Mogilny in obtaining asylum status in the U.S. and working on multiple NHL expansions, including San Jose, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Drew teaches a variety of courses that incorporate topics such as drug testing in professional sports and professional player contract negotiation and arbitration. She is especially interested in the evolving research and litigation concerning concussions in both amateur and professional sports.

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