“No, we’re not going to run in the Preakness,” West said Monday on NBC’s Today morning show. “There’s no Triple Crown on the line for us, and there’s no reason to run a horse back in two weeks when you don’t have to.”
Maximum Security led Saturday’s 145th running of the Derby almost wire to wire, but he was disqualified in a unanimous decision by three stewards who ruled that he had drifted into the path of several other horses as the lead pack turned for home. The disqualification handed victory to 65-1 longshot Country House.
It was the first time a Derby result had ever been overturned because of an in-race foul, and West became increasingly critical of the decision the more replays he watched. But several of the leading trainers in the sport praised the stewards on Sunday, saying they’d made a correct and courageous decision.
West said he planned to file a formal appeal of the disqualification with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday. He said he was troubled by the fact the stewards did not initiate their own inquiry of Maximum Security’s trip in the Derby and instead waited for objections from two opposing jockeys, including Country House’s rider, Flavien Prat.
He sharply criticized Churchill Downs, calling the Derby’s parent company “a greedy organization” that risks the safety of horses and riders by running 20-horse fields when the standard field size for major races is 14.
West's appeal was rapidly denied Monday afternoon, with the commission's general counsel writing that the stewards' decision to disqualify Maximum Security was not subject to appeal. It was not clear if West would pursue a lawsuit, which seemed to be his remaining recourse.
West’s decision left the Preakness without one of the two major headliners from a hotly debated Derby. At the time he announced it, only two of the top 10 Derby finishers, Country House and War of Will, were considered likely for the Preakness field, according to their trainers.
But the race received a significant boost later Monday, when seven-time Preakness-winning trainer Bob Baffert told the Daily Racing Form that Improbable will be in the field for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Triple Crown-winning jockey Mike Smith, Baffert’s favorite big-race rider, will be aboard. Improbable went off as the favorite in the Derby, but jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. never could steer him out of heavy traffic, and he ended up fourth (still the best of Baffert’s three entries). He’s a formidable addition to the field and would likely be the morning-line favorite if no other major Derby runners enter the fray.
Code of Honor, a quiet runner-up in Saturday’s race, is also still a possibility as trainer Shug McGaughey weighs his options from his home base in New York..
Seventh-place Derby finisher War of Will was the horse most directly impeded by Maximum Security’s drift off the rail, and given his talent, he could also be favored in the Preakness over Country House, who’d won just one of six career starts going into Saturday.
144TH PREAKNESS STAKES
Second jewel of Triple Crown series
Pimlico Race Course
Saturday, May 18, 6:40 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4