LOUISVILLE – Jockey Luis Saez told NBC’s cameras that his dream came true. Then came the nightmare.
Kentucky Derbyhistory played out slowly with an excruciating wait in the mud surrounded by dozens of cameras, steps from the winner’s circle of a race that actually still had no winner.
Maximum Security’s trainer Jason Servis told television cameras that he was praying to the racing gods, that his horse had “straightened up right away and I don't think it affected the outcome of the race.”
“He’s just a baby,” Saez told the cameras about his horse being affected by the conditions of the final turn.
On the other side of the track nearest the grandstand, Country House’s jockey Flavien Prat — a source of objection against Saez’s Maximum Security — waited quietly to find out by stewards’ ruling if he had won the Kentucky Derby.
Country House jockey Flavien Prat celebrates with the Kentucky Derby trophy in the winner's circle (Photo: Mark Zerof, USA TODAY Sports)
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“It took quite long,” Prat said, “and usually when it takes so long, it’s a good sign.”
Nearby, Country House’s trainer Bill Mott was telling reporters that on any other day a decision to disqualify would be a no-brainer.
Prat stared ahead. He said he was genuinely happy with how it went anyway, and rightfully so. Country House went off at 65-1 and crossed the finish line second, the rare late-running closer to contend in a race recently dominated by early speedsters and favorites. Maximum Security was one of them.
And then he wasn’t.
When the ruling was announced, disqualifying Maximum Security and lifting Country House to the win, Saez nodded briefly and turned away from the cameras, saying nothing and walking quickly into the tunnel past Prat and celebrating connections of the winning horse.
Luis Saez reacts during an inquiry. His horse was disqualified. (Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports)
"I thought I never put anybody in danger," Saez said. "My horse shied away from the noise of the crowd and may have ducked out a little."
Saez's agent, Richard Depass, declined additional comment when reached Saturday night.
Maximum Security had “kind of drifted out” on the turn, Prat said. That horse never made contact with his horse, Prat said, but another horse on inside did which “kind of turned me sideways.”
“I was making a run,” Prat said, “and I kind of lost momentum. It’s not only me, but the horses between Maximum Security and Country House who had been affected.”
For both Prat and Saez, a first-ever Kentucky Derby victory had been up for grabs.
A native of Panama, Saez was in his seventh Kentucky Derby, having never finished better than seventh. Prat, a Frenchman who moved a few years ago to full-time racing in the United States, was in his third Derby. He’d finished third with Battle of Midway in 2017 and his career highlight in America had previously been a win in the Breeders’ Cup.
This, obviously, was different.
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“It’s a great moment. It’s a dream come true,” Prat said. “Coming from Europe, the Breeders’ Cup was a bigger deal for me. But as soon as I rode the first year here … it’s amazing. There is no race like the Kentucky Derby.”
Prat had the mount in the first five races for Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite for this Derby who was scratched during the week.
“It’s been really emotional,” Prat said. “I was riding Omaha Beach… But in the end, it turned out great, actually.”
Saturday was Prat’s first ride with Country House, who actually had been ridden in three races by Saez.
“I don’t think Luis Saez did anything intentionally,” Mott said. “I think his horse was green. He’s an inexperienced horse. He’s only run three or four times, and he’s probably never seen anything like this before. I can’t answer why he did it. … And when he did, he came out three paths and he bothered two horses. Louie is a friend of mine. He rides for me. I’ve got friendships with the connections of that horse. My heart actually aches a little bit for them, but that’s the way it is. I’ve been on the other end of it plenty of times, just not in the Kentucky Derby.”
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