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Daily Racing Form: Lawsuit Filed To Overturn Kentucky Derby DQ

Maximum Security owners Gary and Mary West are behind the suit that seeks to declare their horse the winner.

Churchill Downs

The owners of Maximum Security, the colt disqualified from first in the May 4 Kentucky Derby, have filed a federal lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Kentucky seeking to overturn the stewards’ decision and declare the horse the official winner.

The suit, filed by owners Gary and Mary West against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the stewards who preside at Churchill Downs, states that a rule in Kentucky that does not allow appeals of stewards’ decisions is a violation of the horse owners’ rights. The suit also states that the decision was not supported “by substantial evidence on the whole record.”

Maximum Security was disqualified by the stewards after an incident at the top of the stretch in which the horse veered out and created chaos among the horses to his outside. The chart of the race states that Maximum Security “veered out sharply forcing War of Will out into Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress nearing the five-sixteenths pole.” He was placed 17th by the stewards, behind the finishing position of Long Range Toddy.

“As a result of the disqualification, plaintiffs, the trainer, and the jockey of Maximum Security were denied any part of the $1,860,000 share of the Derby purse as well as a professional accomplishment that any horseman would cherish for life, plus the very substantial value that a Kentucky Derby winner has as a stallion,” the suit states.

The disqualification has been debated endlessly since the Derby, with Gary West claiming publicly that War of Will initiated the contact, despite video evidence contradicting that assessment. The stewards’ decision was unanimous.

No horse had been disqualified from first for a racing infraction in the history of the Derby, though Kentucky Derby winner Dancer’s Image was disqualified in the 1968 race after testing positive for a trace amount of the painkiller phenylbutazone. A legal battle over that result was not resolved until four years later, and the second-place horse, Forward Pass, remains the official winner of the race.

The Wests had previously appealed the decision to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, but the commission said that it would not grant an appeal, citing the rule that states that decisions of the stewards are final.

“As a condition of licensure and for the privilege of participating in horse racing, every licensee agrees to abide by the commission’s rules and regulations,” wrote John Forgy, legal counsel for the KHRC, in a response to the submission by West to the commission.

The suit states that the decision by the stewards was “bizarre and unconstitutional.” It also states that the stewards exceeded their statutory authority and that the rule on which the stewards based their decision was “unconstitutionally vague.”

Representatives of the commission did not immediately return phone calls.

In a statement released after the Derby, the stewards said that two of the jockeys involved in the incident claimed foul. The statement said that the stewards determined that Maximum Security drifted out and impacted the progression of War of Will, which then caused interference with Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress.

In addition to the rule stating that decisions are final, Kentucky’s regulations state that stewards “shall consider the seriousness and circumstances of the incident” when deciding on an incident on the track, and the rules then give them wide discretion in how to determine a disqualification and the placing of horses in the event of a disqualification.

On Monday, the Churchill stewards handed down a 15-day suspension to Maximum Security’s rider, Luis Saez, for failing to control his mount in the Derby. Saez is expected to appeal the decision to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

This story originally appeared on DRF.com.

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