Trainer of DQ’d Kentucky Derby winner still has questions
Jason Servis has slowly come to terms with Maximum Security’s disqualification after winning the Kentucky Derby but he still has questions about what he said was “a bad call.”
The Derby was the biggest race in the life of the 62-year-old trainer, who runs his 75-horse stable out of Monmouth Park on the Jersey Shore with his wife handling payroll and one of his sons assisting him.
His younger brother, John, won the Derby in 2004 with Smarty Jones, and Servis thought they’d made history last weekend. He did, only as the trainer of the first winner to be disqualified for interference in 145 years.
“The bottom line is that day he was the best horse,” he told The Associated Press by phone Thursday. “I didn’t get the roses, but I had that horse spot-on and we kicked their (rears).”
Servis called it “terrible” that the stewards didn’t post the inquiry sign themselves, which would have delayed the posting of the official sign on the tote board and in turn held up the cashing of tickets and the owners making their way to the winner’s circle.
Inquiries can also be triggered by owners, trainers or, in this case, jockeys.
“They let the Wests go in the winner’s circle,” he said of owners Gary and Mary West. “If we had saw that (sign), I’m sure we would have waited.”
As the son of a retired steward, Servis is used to officials making tough calls.
Familiar with protocol, he got on speaker phone with the three stewards a few minutes after the Derby ended.
He asked who had claimed foul and was told jockey Flavien Prat, aboard second-place finisher Country House.
“I didn’t bother the 20 horse,” Servis said, referring to Country House, who was elevated to first place by the stewards.
Servis asked why Maximum Security was dropped to 17th and the stewards said the colt was placed behind all the horses he interfered with when he veered out of his path turning for home.
It wasn’t until a news conference with the stewards that Servis heard there was a second claim of foul — by Long Range Toddy’s jockey Jon Court.
The footnotes for the official Derby chart by Equibase only mention Country House’s jockey lodging an objection for interference against Maximum Security.
“I find it odd to come back later and find there was two claims. Did they call Court in the middle of this and say, ‘Did you get bothered?’” Servis said. “I don’t think he claimed foul until he got back and got off his horse. I think if he didn’t claim foul, then it’s official.”
Servis compared the situation to a football game in which referees review whether a player stepped out of bounds making a catch only to notice another player in the background grabbed someone’s face mask.
The stewards took no questions from the media after chief steward Barbara Borden read a short statement.
“The fact that they didn’t allow any questions, come on, it’s the Kentucky Derby,” Servis said. “There was no transparency. It really made it look bad for racing because people don’t understand it.”
The Wests asked to meet with the stewards to review the race video and were told it couldn’t happen until five days later.
“All the Wests wanted was to be able to show what happened,” Servis said. “They (stewards) could have said we’ll come in Sunday and go over it with you.”
He holds no grudge against Prat or Country House’s trainer Bill Mott.
“If somebody told him to claim foul, he has a job to do,” Servis said of the jockey.
Maximum Security was back on the track Thursday for the first time since the Derby, going for a light jog around the Jersey Shore oval. The colt lost weight and sustained cuts in the Derby, so Servis is focused on returning him to “110%,” however long it takes.
Maximum Security won’t run in the Preakness on May 18 and neither will Country House. Servis downplayed a potential rematch between the colts.
“I think he’s something special,” he said, noting Maximum Security has crossed the wire first in all five of his career races. “Does that mean I’m going to be the best horse in the next race? No. As the year goes on, they beat each other.”
Servis hasn’t ruled Maximum Security out of the Belmont on June 8. Other possibilities are the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on July 20 and the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 24.
“We’re going to run him and try to get 3-year-old champion,” he said, referring to the Eclipse Award that honors the year’s top male.
Meanwhile, Servis has been overwhelmed with consoling cards, letters, phone calls and text messages since the Derby.
A fan from North Carolina sent a dozen red roses to his barn Thursday. A note enclosed with the flowers read: “Great race, it seems as though someone forgot to give you roses.”
He visited his 87-year-old father in Charles Town, West Virginia, after the Derby. Servis joked that someday he’ll be the answer to a question on “Jeopardy!”
“My dad said they’ll never spell your name wrong again,” he said.