Maximum Security was the first to cross the finish line in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. What happened next put horse racing on a year-long odyssey of chaos: from a historic DQ to doping, from lawsuits to a pandemic, and now a triple crown has been turned on its head.
In the midst of uncertainty, Tiz the Law was born. A win in Saturday's 146th Derby would enable the New York state-bred colt to become the 14th Triple Crown winner of the race heading into Preakness next month.
"If he won, he would have an asterisk," said rival owner Jack Wolf. "I'd rather have an asterisk than no asterisk."
The coronavirus has turned the Triple Crown on its head, turned the series from a five-week sprint into a 15-week marathon, and messed up the order. Instead of leaving on the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby switched to Labor Day weekend. It gets sandwiched between the Belmont Stakes in mid-June and the Preakness in early October.
It took until days before this year's race to confirm last year's Derby winner.
The owners of Maximum Security sued to overturn the decision of the Churchill Downs stewards who disqualified their colt for meddling – an unprecedented move. Last week a federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision to dismiss Gary and Mary West's lawsuit. You have not filed any further appeals. Country House, the runner-up, was declared the winner.
In March, Maximum Security trainer Jason Servis, along with over two dozen other trainers, assistants, veterinarians and pharmacists, was charged with a horse doping ring. Federal authorities claim Servis was part of a network of race insiders who sold, distributed, and drugged horses to improve their performance. Defense attorneys are waiting to review all government evidence against their clients. No negotiation date was set.
At the end of February, Maximum Security won the Saudi Cup. However, the Wests have not yet received $ 10 million in cash. It was withheld by the race organizers pending the outcome of their investigation, which was sparked by the Servis indictment. Maximum Security has never tested positive for any illegal substance.
The Saudi Arabia Jockey Club said the coronavirus pandemic had delayed the process even though owners of horses that finished second through tenth were making money.
Following Servis' indictment, the Wests hired Bob Baffert, a two-time Triple Crown winner, to train Maximum Security.
Nevertheless, the hits continued.
The coronavirus practically brought the nation to a standstill in mid-March. The race eventually resumed, with fans cheering at the railing, yelling at their laptops and phones as they bet online. Fans were not allowed in the Belmont Stakes. Churchill Downs initially allowed a limited number of viewers and then decided against it.
"Who would have ever thought you'd run the Kentucky Derby without fans?" Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said.
There's still no word on whether fans will be allowed into Preakness.
If fans are not present at any of the Triple Crown races, the massive economic boom in the venues and cities will be affected.
After a rash of horse deaths in Santa Anita and other routes stretching into this year, the sport was already nervous.
"What could go wrong now?" Baffert asked himself, whose wife regularly asked him, "What's the latest? More Scud missiles falling?"
Some landed near their homes in the spring and summer.
On the same day that the Kentucky Derby would have run, Baffert had two horses entered Oaklawn Park. Charlatan won a division of the Arkansas Derby and filly Gamine won a lesser race. Both later tested positive for lidocaine, a narcotic drug that is considered a Class 2 drug. Both horses were disqualified and deprived of their purse. Baffert is appealing his 15-day ban, which the Arkansas Racing Commission negotiated in mid-September.
Gamine is the first favorite for the $ 1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday.
In early June, Baffert mourned Arrogate, 3-year-old champion of 2016. Under Baffert's guidance, Arrogate became North America's all-time money winner. The horse was euthanized at the age of 7 after becoming ill.
Charlatan and Nadal were Baffert's two top derby candidates. Charlatan was sidelined due to a minor injury. Nadal was injured and had to retire. The five-time Derby winner brought two more stallions to Louisville.
"I can't wait until 2020 is over," said Baffert. "It's just a big asterisk."