LOUISVILLE, KY. — After Triple Crown victories in 2015 and 2018, trainer Bob Baffert seemed to enter this year’s Kentucky Derby with the strongest hand yet again.
He had not one but three top contenders — Game Winner, Improbable and Roadster. In the end, none of them finished higher than fourth.
“He’s trying to get out and they won’t let him,” Baffert said, as he watched Improbable fight for space in the heavy traffic near the front of the field.
Baffert had said Maximum Security was the greatest threat to his horses, and he was frustrated to watch his speedy rival move to the lead and hold it without any other contenders pushing the pace.
“Nobody ran with that horse,” he said in disbelief. He had no idea Maximum Security would ultimately be disqualified. In the end, Improbable finished fourth, Game Winner fifth and Roadster 15th.
No go for Win Win Win
Maryland-based contender Win Win Win finished ninth in the Derby for trainer Mike Trombetta, never generating the fearsome charge that had carried him into the field with a second-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Win Win Win spent most of the race near the back of the pack before trying to make his moved down the stretch under Laurel-based jockey Julian Pimentel.
“No real excuses,” Trombetta said afterward. “The rider said he seemed to struggle with the kickback and the climbing a little bit. But other than that, he had an OK trip. Today wasn’t his day.”
This was the second Derby for Trombetta, a 52-year-old Perry Hall native who trained Win Win Win from his home base at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton. He finished seventh with post-time favorite Sweetnorthernsaint in 2006.
Affected by move
Though War of Will’s rider, Tyler Gaffalione, was not one of the two jockeys who formally protested Maximum Security’s trip, his horse was most directly affected.
“I really thought I was going to win the Derby,” he said. “I checked pretty hard when [Maximum Security] came out as far as he did.”
Maximum Security was ultimately disqualified for drifting off the rail, handing victory to Country House. War of Will ended up seventh.
“Tyler said he felt great,” trainer Mark Casse said. “He said if he could have gotten him to relax a little, he thought he would finish a little better.”
Amid all the controversy over the disqualification of Maximum Security, Code of Honor quietly ended up second behind Country House.
The Shug McGaughey-trained colt had been considered a top Derby contender before he finished third, without threatening winner Maximum Security, in the March 30 Florida Derby.
He briefly took the lead at the mile mark of Saturday’s race before falling back to finish ¾ of a length behind Country House.
“The rail opened up great for me,” said jockey John Velazquez. “It was like, ‘Open Sesame.’ I thought I was going to win it. He ran like a green horse down the stretch. He was definitely affected by what was happening to his outside.”
Jockey Corey Lanerie, one of the most successful regular riders at Churchill Downs, thought he was all set to be aboard Cutting Humor in the Derby.
So Lanerie told the Louisville Courier-Journal he felt he’d received a “slap in the face” when he learned Friday he would be replaced by Mike Smith.
Smith, who rode Justify to the Triple Crown last year, became available when morning-line favorite Omaha Beach was scratched from the Derby field on Wednesday. He had a strong relationship with Cutting Humor’s owner, Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing.
Wolf agreed to pay both riders for their services, but that was cold comfort to Lanerie, who lost his wife to cancer last summer. “It just kind of devastates you,” he told the Courier-Journal. “It’s a moment you’ve lived for and tried to wait for all year.”
144th Preakness Stakes
Second jewel of Triple Crown series
Pimlico Race Course
Saturday, May 18, 6:40 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4