HOPKINSVILLE, Kentucky — I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of money that changed hands after Maximum Security’s disqualification from the Kentucky Derby earlier this year.
I can, however, tell you how much money changed hands at Captain George Worsham’s house in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, in the moments after that dramatic reversal.
My wife, Caitlin Worsham, I, and a small army of friends and relatives were in the Bluegrass State to celebrate Caitlin’s grandpa’s 95th birthday. That significant life milestone happened to coincide with the biggest horse race of the year, so being good Americans, everyone put some money on the table. All present — 16 people — threw in five bucks a piece, for a pot of $80. Then we picked our horses out of a hat, and waited to see what would happen.
What happened, of course, was one of the strangest moments in horse racing history — or so I’m assuming, because I’m virtually horse racing illiterate. So, too, was everyone else at Captain George’s house that day, because we were all perplexed — as I’m sure most Americans were — as to why Maximum Security had a first-place finish ripped from his hooves. The premise for disqualification seemed to be that Maximum Security had moved out of his lane down the final stretch — sort of, I guess — thus blocking another horse from potentially overtaking him.
“The premise for disqualification seemed to be that Maximum Security had moved out of his lane down the final stretch — sort of, I guess — thus blocking another horse from potentially overtaking him.”
“That’s just tough racing,” said Rusty, my sister-in-law’s deadpan boyfriend, sounding a lot like a NASCAR fan. And most everyone, including myself, agreed that it was tough racing, but no one could say for sure if a rule had been broken, because, let’s face it, mostly no one is familiar with the professional horse racing rulebook.
Those 15 long minutes in which the “stewards” — who apparently hold some serious sway within the horse racing realm — reviewed the replay were tense. Millions of dollars, across the world, hung in the balance. And within our little Hopkinsville bubble, a cool 80 bucks was up in the air, and tears were flowing even before the final verdict was announced.
You see, Caitlin’s cousin’s wife is an extraordinarily empathetic person. She’d drawn Country House, and thus stood to become the winner should the disqualification stand up. She’d seen the interview Luis Saez, Maximum Security’s jockey, had done after winning the race, where he talked about how he’d once been a young boy from Panama, with nothing but a dream and an insatiable desire to become a world-renowned jockey.
Based on that interview, she’d made the assumption that the Kentucky Derby was this guy’s big break. Here was this rags to potentially riches story, she thought, and now all of that was going to be stolen from him. How dare those stewards and their…authority.
So she broke into tears. She didn’t want to take the money — that dirty, dirty money — if it meant that a young Panamanian jockey was going to have to remain in poverty. She was already crying when the reversal was confirmed, and that announcement made her borderline hysterical.
“So she broke into tears. She didn’t want to take the money — that dirty, dirty money — if it meant that a young Panamanian jockey was going to have to remain in poverty.”
In an attempt to ease her distress, I looked up Saez’s career earnings.
They exceeded $102 million.
We broke that news to her, and she quickly stopped crying.
The Derby, of course, was just one part of what turned out to be a memorable weekend. The controversial result was quickly pushed to the backburner, because there were more important fish to fry, namely, enjoying time with family, and celebrating Captain George’s birthday. His two favorite gifts were a super-stylish Stetson and a leaf-blower.
The night after the derby, the younger relatives stayed up way too late in a hotel room, talking about nothing and everything, reminiscing and making plans for the future. At about 2 a.m., Caitlin and I returned to Captain George’s house to sleep on a double-decker air mattress in the living room.
The next morning, Caitlin’s dad (aka Papa) and George were up at 6:30, making coffee and chit-chatting in the kitchen.
I was drifting in and out of sleep, catching a few words here and there. I awoke once, lying on my back, and before re-shutting my eyes, I heard the Captain say, in his Kentucky drawl:
“I’ll tell ya, I’m really looking forward to giving that leaf blower a go.”
And I hope he does. As often as possible
This article originally appeared in The Mountaineer.