Life remains normal for Kentucky Derby winner Country House

Getty Images

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky Derby winner Country House isn’t a racing rock star just yet.

If not for the garland of roses draped across the white saw horse outside Bill Mott’s stable at Churchill Downs or the sign beside his stall that reads 2019 Kentucky Derby winner, it might be hard to know Country House won thoroughbred racing’s marquee event.

The buzz has been more about how the 65-1 long shot was elevated to champion by the most shocking decision in Derby history.

The weekend’s noisy gathering of horsemen, riders, media and spectators gave way to a tranquil setting on the backside of the barn Monday. Country House occasionally looked out of his stall to munch on feed in relative peace, a contrast to the Sunday when his every move drew oohs and aahs and was photographed.

Regardless of how it came about, Country House is the Derby winner.

“He’s going to have a lot of people want to come and see him, and that’s OK,” Mott said Monday of his horse. “I don’t think he minds that. He’s not a nervous horse, so he doesn’t mind the activity.

“He’s always been a little bit of a clown and sometimes a little bit hard to handle, but they seem to know that there’s some extra attention given them. They get to where they’re sort of curious about the clicking of the shutters on the camera.”

Cameras certainly factored into Country House being draped in roses.

He initially finished 1 3/4 lengths behind Maximum Security on Saturday with a performance that stunned Mott. Jockey Flavien Prat and another rider immediately objected and said he was interfered with by Maximum Security, who veered right and collected several horses. Country House was involved but didn’t appear to be affected much.

Racing stewards took 22 minutes to review video and interview riders before disqualifying him to 17th and Country House to first. He became an instant celebrity of sorts – especially to those who were paid $132.40 for a win bet – though the spotlight has largely remained on the first Derby winner to be taken down by disqualification.

A stunned Mott, 65, was almost apologetic about the outcome considering the circumstances. But he has gotten over that and is getting his mind around the aftermath. He hopes the public will as well.

“It’s taken a little bit of the glory out of it, the glow out of it because there’s been questions about it,” said the Hall of Famer, whose other Derby entrant, Tacitus, was elevated from fourth to third with the disqualification.

“I’m sure there were a lot of people that bet on Maximum Security and had win tickets on him. So, to them it probably seems as though the best horse lost the race,” Mott said. “Hopefully, everybody that could be a naysayer would understand what the stewards saw and what the horsemen probably see.”

Maximum Security’s co-owner, Gary West, appealed the stewards’ decision on Monday, which was later denied by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Earlier in the day, West announced that his horse will not run in the Preakness on May 18 in Baltimore.

Country House’s status for the Preakness is unclear, though Mott understands the significance of running the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. It would mark his fourth race in eight weeks.

All of which makes the low profile – for now – and current quiet somewhat welcome.

That might change if Country House enters the Preakness, which leads to a little more buzz around the barn during Triple Crown season. For now, the horse is just winding down from his big moment.

Mott is getting his mind around everything, which becomes easier with each congratulatory hug and handshake from horsemen.

“I think everybody is a little bit exhausted from the whole situation,” Mott said. “But now we need to get back to work as usual. We’ve got a lot of the horses in the stables.

“Not only Country House and Tacitus, but some other very important horses. They’re all equal here.”

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

churchill downs
Michael Clevenger and Erik Mohn/USA TODAY NETWORK

Churchill Downs will suspend racing on Wednesday and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

1 Comment

NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.