OCEANPORT, N.J. — A steady line of horses paraded out of his barn on Wednesday morning, with Jason Servis giving whatever instructions necessary to each exercise rider and then making the short walk to the track to oversee the workouts.
In one sense, it was business as usual for the Monmouth Park trainer. But the reality is that things may never be quite the same for Servis, 62, now one of the most recognizable figures in racing after Maximum Security became the first horse ever disqualified after winning the Kentucky Derby.
Maximum Security returned to New Jersey before Servis, the horse arriving at the Shore on Tuesday (watch scenes from the horse’s arrival in the video at the top of the page). Servis had maintained a low profile during the national controversy — until now.
“It was a bad call. The best horse won the race that day. They weren’t beating him,’’ Servis told the Asbury Park Press, while getting back to work here after making the drive from Churchill Downs, stopping in his hometown of Charles Town, West Virginia, to see his parents. “There are too many things that were unsettling.’’
Trainer Jason Servis, in a 2016 photo, in his Monmouth Park barn with Sunny Ridge. Last Saturday, Maximum Security, trained by Servis, was disqualified after winning the Kentucky Derby. (Photo: FILE PHOTO)
Maximum Security won’t run in the Preakness — the second leg of the Triple Crown — nd neither will Country House, the official winner of the Derby.
Servis said his horse isn’t ready to wheeled back for the Preakness two weekends from now, and dismissed speculation that skipping the race is “sour grapes” over the Triple Crown debacle.
In fact, Servis said he has not ruled out running Maximum Security back in the Belmont Stakes — the final jewel of the series — on June 8. But he said there is no concrete plan for the rest of the season, though the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on July 20 is a consideration.
(story continues after the video)
Servis said there are many things that don’t sit well with him about the way things went down after the Kentucky Derby, when his horse was taken down after an agonizing 22-minute wait, with runnerup Country House declared the winner.
The events unfolded after jockey Flavien Pratt, aboard Country House, and Jon Court, riding Long Range Toddy, who finished 17th, claimed foul, with Maximum Security bearing out as the field turned for home. The Churchill Downs stewards, who made the decision, did not call for an inquiry after the race.
“I’ve been trying to stay quiet, in the heat of the moment you could say a lot of things,’’ he said.
“But there’s no inquiry. I talked to the stewards about three minutes after the race and I asked – this is word for word – I said `sir, I just have a couple of questions because I’ve got an owner asking questions.’ I said `who claimed foul?’ They said the 20, who finished second. I said, `how did I get put back to 18th?’ They said `because you bothered the 17 horse.’ I said `OK, and there was just one foul claim?’ And they said yes. I said `who am I speaking with, sir?’ He said `you’re on the speakerphone and you’re speaking to all three of us.’ I said `thank you.’
“Then during the press conference it comes out that there were two foul claims. I could see one of them making a mistake, but all three? They told me there was one foul claim, the horse that finished second. There were some things that happened. Why wasn’t there an inquiry? Why did they say there was only one foul claim. Maybe they called Court, `you want to claim foul, maybe you were bothered?’ or something. I don’t know. There are too many things that were unsettling.’’
As Servis reflected on the post-race transgressions while horses galloped past him on the other side of the rail Wednesday morning, the more he spoke the more incensed he became.
“You can’t officiate it like other races, and they should have taken questions. How could you not?” he said. “We had called before we asked who claimed foul, and asked if we could just come up and they could explain to us what they saw. We weren’t going to go up and beat them up or anything. The Wests wanted to see it. I wanted to see it. `Sure, come up and we’ll show you what we saw.’ Or come up after the 12th race and we’ll have plenty of time, or maybe we’ll come in tomorrow morning with the others and see what you saw. Instead, no questions. That’s BS.”
What Servis knows for sure is that Maximum Security has cuts on his hind legs from the race, run in close quarters as the field rounded the turn and headed down the homestretch. And that it makes sense not to run him back in the Preakness on May 18, even though owner Gary West has drawn heavy criticism for the decision not to run him.
“Not running in the Preakness wasn’t sour grapes,’’ Servis said. “We’ve got to go for 3-year-old of the year now. The horse has cuts. If he had won the Derby we would have done the Preakness, but to come back in two weeks? He breezed the morning of the race, he ran a mile-and-1/4 quarter that day, then he shipped to Monmouth. Then to come back in 14 days, that’s a lot. I’d rather be able to space him until I feel good that when I’m leading him over, he’s 100 percent.’’
Servis said the summer plan is not set for Maximum Security.
“I’m going to do what Mr. West told me to do, which is what I think is best for the horse and run where him where he should be, whether that’s the Belmont, the Travers, the Haskell,’’ he said.