Are We There Yet?

May 13-19, 2019

By Jay Edwards


The jockey was happy. So was the trainer. Then they weren’t. 


I don’t know if the horse, Maximum Security, knew he had won, which was a good thing, as it would turn out to be almost as fleeting as his run. But back in the stables his oats would probably taste just as good. I saw the fouls, or infractions, or whatever they call them. I told KM, “He’s all over the track.” I’ve watched enough races to think it was going to be a problem and was surprised no one was talking about it when the race ended. Come on Randy Moss, you had to have seen that. 


Talk about going from the heights to the depths in a matter of minutes. My first reaction was to blame the jockey, Luis Saez. But the next day I read what Bill Mott, the trainer of Country House said, that it wasn’t the fault of Saez.


“I think the horse did this on his own,” Mott said. “I don’t think Luis Saez did anything intentionally. I think his horse was green. He’s an inexperienced horse — he’s only run three or four times. And he’s probably never seen anything like this before.” Which must have been what Saez meant when he kept calling his horse a baby. Maximum Security had raced just four times. And he was 4-0 going into the first Saturday in May.


Then there was trainer Jason Servis, who I was happy for because he had matched his brother John, the trainer of Smarty Jones, as the winning trainer in the world’s greatest horse race. His only other Derby run came last year with an 11th place finish. I remember thinking Servis seemed pretty calm and reserved in the interview just after the race had ended. “Probably still in shock,” I thought, unknowing the real shock was about 20 minutes away. But maybe the reserved demeanor of Servis meant he’d seen something too.


I hope Maximum Security comes back and wins this Saturday’s Preakness, even though as I write this, his owner, Gary West, has yet to enter him. “When you’re not going for the Triple Crown, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to wheel the horse back in two weeks,” West said. 


West is considering an appeal.


The Sport of Kings has a rich history of the bizarre, like in 1966 at a race in Ghana when all the jockeys went on strike because the authorities would not sacrifice a cow at a specific turn that was considered to be dangerous. 


But one of the strangest has to be from 1923, when 35-year-old jockey Frank Hayes won a horse race despite being dead. It was in a steeplechase at Belmont Park. 


Hayes had never won and his odds weren’t good to break that string, riding a 20-1 long shot named Sweet Kiss.


Sometime during the race, Hayes suffered a heart attack and died instantly. However, he didn’t fall off of his horse. In fact, he remained in the saddle for the rest of the race and crossed the finish line first, winning by a head.


Despite the fact that Hayes had died at some point while still on the track, no one was aware that anything had gone wrong until officials went to congratulate him, only to find out he was no longer alive.


Doctors surmised that the rider’s recent weight loss (dropping from 142 pounds to 130 pounds in a very short time in order to qualify) had contributed to the strain on his heart.


Even though she’d won, the horse Hayes rode never raced again and Sweet Kiss was nicknamed “Sweet Kiss of Death” for the rest of her life.


Thanks to “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.”


  • Jay Edwards
    Jay Edwards