Stevens On Kentucky Derby: "They Made The Right Call"

Gary Stevens didn't like how the Kentucky Derby ended but called the decision "a no-brainer"

Tiki and Tierney
May 06, 2019 - 5:39 pm

The Kentucky Derby – “the most exciting two minutes in sports” – produced hours (days?) of controversy Saturday, this after the result was overturned. Indeed, Maximum Security crossed the finish line first but was disqualified for interfering with other horses, drifting into their race paths and cutting them off.

Country House – the longshot of longshots at 65-1 – was declared the winner.

“The stewards made the right call,” Hall of Famer and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Gary Stevens said on Tiki & Tierney. “That was a no-brainer. But was it fair to the owners? Was it fair to the bettors? No, it wasn’t.”

Maximum Security bettors lost millions – and the rules had a lot to do with it.

“Under the international rules, those rules say that if the horse or horses that were interfered with were not going to beat the winner, they would not be demoted or disqualified unless it was gross negligence that kept the horse from even finishing the race,” he explained. “The penalties for the jockey, if it was concluded that it was the jockey’s fault for the interference, those penalties are extremely stiff in Europe. I’ve ridden under those rules for many years when I traveled to Europe, Japan. We are the only major racing jurisdiction – here and Canada – that do not race under those (rules). I expect that to change soon.”

While Country House won the race, Stevens believes Maximum Security was better.

“The best horse (Maximum Security) won the race, and it’s unfortunate,” Stevens said. “My heart bleeds for everyone involved, including the jockey, who I would exonerate for the interference. Maximum Security had only raced four times. He’s a 3-year-old. He’s basically an outstanding kindergartner racing at pro level.”

Stevens believes inclement weather may have influenced Maximum Security’s path, as light reflected off the puddles at Churchill Downs.

“It looked like headlights shining into your eyes,” Stevens said. “Horses’ eyes are very, very sensitive, and they’re not too good, to be honest with you. They see things sometimes that aren’t there. In my opinion, Maximum Security, there was a big puddle under the rail and he shied away from it, causing him to switch into his right lead. People out there that don’t know: A horse travels around the turn with their left lead, meaning their left front leg is leading the show. When they come into the straightaway, they swap into their right lead, and that pulls them down the stretch. When they go into their right lead around the lead, their centripetal force cannot hold them in. At 45 miles an hour, I can’t put any blame on the jockey at all. But they had to follow the law of the state of Kentucky, and they did. And there was a disqualification, unfortunately.”

Stevens added that the Derby’s 20-horse field should be reduced.

“When you’re dealing with 20 and it’s the Kentucky Derby and you’re running for $3 million, it’s a scrum early on,” he said. “It’s dangerous. We’re all paid to do a job, but it’s dangerous for the horses, it’s dangerous for the jockeys, and I truly believe that it should be regulated at 14 horses – the same as the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.”