Sidelines with John Clay

More Kentucky Derby controversy as jockey Luis Saez pays an unfair price

It’s a little surprising that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has hit Luis Saez with such a severe penalty for his ride in the Kentucky Derby, given that all those involved in the controversy absolved the jockey of blame.

Saez, the jockey aboard Maximum Security, was suspended 15 days on Monday for “failure to control his mount and make proper effort to maintain a straight racehorse.”

The penalty is in regards to Maximum Security veering out from the rail on the turn for home of the May 4 race. Though he crossed the finish line first, Maximum Security was disqualified and placed 17th. Second-place finisher Country House was declared the winner. It was the first time in the 145-year history of the race that the winner had been disqualified for an on-track violation.

[Most controversial Kentucky Derby ever?]

Saez’s attorney, Ann Oldfather of Louisville, said in a statement that the jockey plans to appeal the suspension that covers May 23-27, May 30-June 2, June 6-9 and June 13-14.

I’m on record as believing the stewards made the right decision on Derby day, but coming down so hard on Saez doesn’t seem quite fair given the circumstances involved.

Immediately after the Derby and on the following morning, Country House trainer Bill Mott said he did not believe the incident was the fault of Saez, who has ridden for Mott in the past. Mott said he thought Maximum Security, an inexperienced horse, had either seen something or heard something that caused him to veer inside.

After crossing the finish line, and before jockeys Jon Court on Long Range Toddy and Flavien Prat on Country House filed rider’s objections, Saez told NBC’s Donna Brothers that Maximum Security did veer at the top of the stretch but Saez said he was immediately able to get the colt under control. Others remarked afterward that Saez did well to keep Maximum Security from veering farther out.

Mark Casse, the trainer of War of Will, who in the judgment of the stewards was impeded by Maximum Security, said the day after the Derby that he felt sorry of everyone involved, but that the correct decision was made.

Since then, of course, Maximum Security’s owner Gary and Mary West have accused War of Will for causing the incident. Through their attorney, the Wests released a highly selective video clip they claimed showed that War of Will committed the foul. A longer clip of the incident clearly shows that Maximum Security came over from the rail into the path of the other horses.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Bob Baffert, a five-time Kentucky Derby winner, was in Louisville on Monday to watch his colt Improbable work out for the Preakness. And Baffert stuck to his view that Maximum Security should not have been disqualified.

With both Maximum Security and Country House skipping the Preakness, Baffert quipped Monday, “We won’t have any of the Derby winners in there.” Indeed, this is the first time since 1951 that the first four horses who crossed the finish line in the Kentucky Derby did not run in the Preakness.

With that in mind, the second leg of the Triple Crown looks to have at least 12 starters on Saturday. Here’s a look at the possibles:

Alwaysmining: The Maryland-bred has won his last six races, including an 11-length win in the Federico Tesio Stakes. All six of the wins came down the road at Laurel Race Course for trainer Kelly Rubley.

Anothertwistafate: The colt earned a spot in the Preakness starting gate by winning the El Camino Real Derby. Trained by Blaine Wright, Anothertwistafate ran second to Cutting Humor in the Sunland Derby and second to Owendale in the Lexington Stakes.

Bodexpress: Along with War of Will and Long Range Toddy, Bodexpress was one of the horses most affected by Maximum Security in the Derby. Trained by Gustavo Delgado, the son of Bodemeister ended up 13th at Churchill.

Bourbon War: Trained by Mark Hennig, the son of Tapit ran fourth in the Florida Derby but did not have enough points to make the Derby field. Hennig decided to take Bourbon War to Baltimore after watching Florida Derby winner Maximum Security run so well in the Derby.

Improbable: Second in both his division of the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby, the son of City Zip finished fourth in the Derby through the DQ. He worked four furlongs in a 51.80 seconds on Monday at Churchill. Mike Smith has the ride for Baffert on Saturday at Pimlico.

Laughing Fox: Thanks to his win in the inaugural Oaklawn Park Invitational, Laughing Fox’s entry fee is being paid by Oaklawn. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the son of Union Rags was previously fourth in the Arkansas Derby.

Market King: The son of Into Mischief got left behind in the Blue Grass Stakes on the way to an 11th-place finish. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won the Preakness six times, however, including 2013 with Oxbow.

Owendale: One of two entrants trained by Brad Cox in the race, Owendale won the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 13.

Signalman: Trained by Kenny McPeek, the son of General Quarters did not qualify for the Derby after finishing third in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Has run just twice this year.

War of Will: Won the Lecomte and Risen Star before a pulled muscle suffered early in the Louisiana Derby led to a ninth-place finish. Ran seventh in the Kentucky Derby after training well for Casse leading up to the race. Is expected to be a major contender in Baltimore.

Warrior’s Change: Trained by Cox, Warrior’s Change is being supplemented to the Preakness after back-to-back allowance wins at Oaklawn Park.

Win Win Win: Michael Trombetta’s colt ran second to Vekoma in the Blue Grass Stakes before running ninth in the Kentucky Derby. It was the first time in six starts the son of Hat Trick had not hit the board.

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