LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As Country House went through the time-honored ritual of posing for photographers on Sunday morning, he had no idea he was the second longest shot ever to win the Kentucky Derby or that he'd been handed the coveted race by an unprecedented disqualification.
The humans on the backside at Churchill Downs, however, could hardly avoid debating three stewards' decision to overturn Maximum Security's victory in the 145th Derby.
Nowhere was that ambivalence more apparent than at the Derby-winning barn, usually a fatigued but jubilant place the morning after the race.
"I feel terrible that I have to apologize for winning," said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who claimed his first Derby victory when the disqualification was announced. "I really feel terrible for the connections, for the owners. I hate to sit there and apologize, saying something as foolish as 'I'm sorry I won.' I don't want to give them the wrong impression that I'm unhappy about winning, because I'm not. I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled with the horse and everybody that's worked with the horse. ... It's just such an unusual way to have to go to the winner's circle."
He did not commit to running Country House in the May 18 Preakness, though he acknowledged a sense of obligation to go for the Triple Crown.
"We didn't even talk about that last night with the owners," he said. "Having the Derby winner, you're pretty much forced to go into the Preakness. ... It's like if you don't ... what's wrong with the horse?"
The possibility lingered that Maximum Security's owner, Gary West, would formally protest the disqualification to the Kentucky Horse Racing Association or file a lawsuit.
But the Derby trainers present on Sunday morning said the stewards made a correct and courageous decision that upheld the integrity of the sport.
"It's probably the toughest call I've seen anyone have to make in horse racing," said two-time Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "I think the positive that horse racing can draw from it is that at the biggest moment in our sport, the stewards made a tough decision, but they made the call. In a lot of sports, they don't always do that. They swallow the whistle in the biggest moment."
Trainer Mark Casse, whose contender War of Will was most directly affected by the sideways move that got Maximum Security disqualified, said he felt terrible for everyone involved, including Mott.