Life remains normal for Kentucky Derby winner Country House

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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.”

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.