WASHINGTON: French jockey Flavien Prat says he is still "over the moon" after winning the Kentucky Derby even if his triumph was the result of a controversial disqualification.
"It's the race that everybody dreams of winning," Plat said in an interview with AFP two days after riding 65/1 longshot Country House to victory.
"It's like winning the Arc, but even better," he said in a reference to the storied Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, France's premier horse race.
Country House was awarded the victory in Saturday's "Run for the Roses" in Louisville, Kentucky, after favourite Maximum Security was disqualified following an agonising 20-minute stewards inquiry.
The three stewards unanimously determined that Maximum Security had drifted into the path of other horses during the final turn and declared second-placed Country House the winner.
The inquiry came after Prat and the rider of another horse, Long Range Toddy, lodged objections with the stewards.
The decision to disqualify Maximum Security was a controversial one and President Donald Trump was among those who tweeted their criticism.
"The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one," Trump said. "It was a rough & tumble race on a wet and sloppy track.
"The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby - not even close!"
Respected horse racing writer Andy Beyer agreed in a piece for The Washington Post.
"Yes, there was a foul," Beyer wrote. "No, it didn't merit a historic disqualification."
The disqualification was just the second in the 145-year history of the race, the first leg in the Triple Crown of US horse racing which also includes the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont.
The only other time a Kentucky Derby result was overturned was in 1968 when Dancer's Image was disqualified several days after the race because of a prohibited medication.
Derek Lawson, Prat's agent, said the jockey had been the target of fierce criticism by some people on social media.
"He was called a crybaby," Lawson said.
"But there were two objections," he noted.
'STILL HAVE A LOT TO PROVE'
Prat, for his part, said he was just excited to be only the second Frenchman ever to win the top US horse race.
Jean Cruguet won the Kentucky Derby aboard Seattle Slew in 1977 and went on to win the Triple Crown.
"There will be other races to win and I still have a lot to prove," Prat said.
"He's a phenomenon, this kid," said Lawson. "When you look at what he's achieved and he is only 26."
Born on August 4, 1992 in Melun, France, Prat has horse racing in his blood.
His father, Frederic, trains harness racing horses but Prat said he always preferred flat racing and was "obsessed" with becoming a jockey from a young age.
He began coming to the United States at age 17 to ride in the winter racing season in California and moved there for good in 2015.
He suffered a severe accident that year, breaking several bones, and was out of action for several months.
Prat went to his first Kentucky Derby the next year - as a spectator.
"I'd never seen anything like it, so many people, the excitement, the whole American show," he said.
Prat, unfortunately, will not be able to emulate the Triple Crown feat of his countryman Cruguet.
Country House's trainer, Bill Mott, told the Daily Racing Form on Tuesday that the horse had developed a cough and would not run in the Preakness on May 18.
Lawson told AFP that although Country Horse will not be entered Prat may still be able to saddle up for the Preakness on another horse.