By Andrew Caulfield
Oh dear! When it comes to writing a column, I find it much easier if I admire the subject horse's performance, but that's not going to be the case today. As far as I could see, Country House was beaten fair and square by Maximum Security–who crossed the line nearly two lengths clear–in Saturday's GI Kentucky Derby.
Over the years I have seen many different interpretations of justice on the racecourse, including disqualifications in several European classics under a variety of jurisdictions and I have come to the conclusion that the current system in Britain is the best.
It has been said that the equity of the result, in inquiries into interference, is dealt with separately in Britain from the disciplining of jockeys for breaching of the rules on improper riding. So British stewards would have asked whether Luis Saez's riding had been dangerous, reckless, careless, improper or accidental. I would have considered Maximum Security's maneuver away from the rails to be accidental, in view of all the noise and commotion which greets the Kentucky Derby runners as they sweep into the stretch.
Coincidentally, several of the disqualifications in European classics have involved horses carrying the colors of Prince Khalid Abdullah. The first came in the 1980 2,000 Guineas, in which the unbeaten Nureyev crossed the line a neck in front of Known Fact, with Posse a further three-quarters of a length back in third. The problem was that Nureyev had nearly put Posse on the floor when asked to barge his way through. After deliberating for more than three-quarters of an hour, the stewards decided that the interference was not accidental and that Nureyev's rider had been reckless. Nureyev therefore had to be placed last.
The 2006 French 1,000 Guineas, the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, fell to Juddmonte's Price Tag, who was later to win the GI Matriarch S. at Hollywood Park. Although Price Tag won by a length and a half, she had hung to her right as she challenged and had squeezed up two of her rivals. With the system in France then being similar to the American rules, Price Tag was demoted to third.
Four years later Special Duty contested the 1,000 Guineas and then the French equivalent, with both races ending in controversy. In the Newmarket classic Special Duty was carried right as Jacqueline Quest veered off a true line and the stewards had little option but to reverse the placings in view of the fact that the pair were separated by only a nose at the line. Jacqueline Quest's rider received a three-day ban for careless riding after he switched his whip to his left hand, even though his filly was edging right.
Special Duty was also awarded the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches even though she suffered no interference. She was beaten a head by Liliside in a race where the first six flashed across the line separated by only heads and necks. Liliside was deemed to have caused interference to three of the other runners and was moved back to sixth.
Whatever your views on the Kentucky Derby result, the race once again underlined to dominance of the Mr. Prospector male line. Maximum Security's sire New Year's Day is a great-grandson of Mr. Prospector, by Street Cry (Ire), who also sired the 2007 winner Street Sense. Country House, on the other hand, is by Mr. Prospector's grandson Lookin At Lucky, a Preakness-winning son of Smart Strike. Curlin, another of Smart Strike's sons, also won the Preakness and has sired winners of the Belmont and the Preakness, but Country House is this branch's first Derby winner.
Another thing that Maximum Security and Country House have in common is that both were just short of their actual third birthday when they raced at Churchill Downs. The disqualified winner was born May 14 and Country House May 8. The third home–Noble Mission (GB)'s son Code of Honor–was born even later, on May 23. The fact that the first three across the line came from the four May foals in the 19-runner field probably didn't surprise anyone in the U.S., where the climate seems to help offset any disadvantage suffered by late foals. Compare that to the 2,000 Guineas, where only two of the 19 runners were born after Apr. 1.
Country House represents another upturn in the fortunes of the appropriately named Lookin At Lucky, whose fee in the last two years has stood at $17,500–exactly half of his original fee in 2011. Accelerate had become Lookin At Lucky's first northern-hemisphere Grade I winner when he landed last year's Santa Anita H. and then clinched the Eclipse Award for Older Dirt Male by adding a further four Grade I victories, including the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Wow Cat, one of the numerous Grade I winners sired by Lookin At Lucky while on transfer to Chile, also got into the act in winning the GI Beldame S. over a mile and an eighth on dirt.
Country House also seems to stay well by American standards even though his dam Quake Lake did her winning in all-weather sprints as a 4-year-old and his third dam Ayanka gained all eight of her wins in dirt sprints.
Ayanka's sire Jade Hunter won the GI Gulfstream Park H. over a mile and a quarter and Country House's second dam Shooting Party is by Sky Classic, another stallion with a degree of stamina. A son of Nijinsky, Sky Classic gained both of his major successes–in the Rothmans International and the Turf Classic–over a mile and a half. Shooting Party inherited a measure of his stamina, performing well in three races over a mile and an eighth, most notably finishing second in the GI Garden City Breeders' Cup H.
Shooting Party, like her daughter Quake Lake, has also done well with Lookin At Lucky. Their son Breaking Lucky won the Prince of Wales S., one of the legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, and performed well in some American Grade Is over a mile and an eighth, once being beaten only three heads in the Woodward S.
Country House's broodmare sire War Chant seemed to have all the makings of a first-rate stallion when this son of the great Danzig retired to Three Chimneys Farm at a fee of $75,000 in 2001. A winner of the GI Breeders' Cup Mile, War Chant was out of the champion filly Hollywood Wildcat, winner of the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff.
The fact that War Chant's fee was to dwindle to a tenth of its original level tells us that his promise went largely unfulfilled. However, disappointing stallions such as War Chant, who start their careers at substantial fees, often prove more effective as broodmare sires, thanks to the strength of their mates' pedigrees. Country House is the second Grade I winner for War Chant's daughters, following the high-class European 2-year-old Shalaa. Kitten's Roar, War Heroine, Csaba and Tammy the Torpedo are among their other graded winners.