Kentucky Derby

Maximum Security’s owners file lawsuit to overturn ‘bizarre’ Kentucky Derby decision

Maximum Security’s owners on Tuesday sued the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and its members, staff and the stewards who disqualified the horse in the 145th Kentucky Derby.

The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Frankfort on Tuesday, called the disqualification process “bizarre and unconstitutional” and seeks to have the stewards’ decision reversed and the original order of finish reinstated “confirming that Maximum Security is the official winner of the Derby who remains undefeated.”

The Wests also want to have the $3 million in Derby purse monies redistributed to them, trainer Jason Servis and jockey Luis Saez.

“As a result of the disqualification, plaintiffs, the trainer, and the jockey of Maximum Security were denied any part of the (winner’s) $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 lawsuit claims.

The racing commission had no immediate comment; the commission has not filed a response to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that the lack of an appeals process for the stewards’ ruling denies Maximum Security’s owners their due process constitutional rights. The Wests filed a notice of intent to appeal with the racing commission on May 6, asking for a hearing by the full commission on the ruling. That was denied; racing commission attorney John Forgy cited Kentucky regulations that do not allow racing decisions to be appealed.

The owners also allege that the stewards’ decision was not supported by “substantial evidence on the whole record” and that the stewards “lied” in their explanation for the disqualification.

On the night of May 4, the stewards stated that: “The riders of the 18 (Long Range Toddy) and 20 (Country House) horses in the Kentucky Derby lodged objections against the 7 (Maximum Security) horse, the winner, due to interference turning for home, leaving the 1/4 pole.

“We had a lengthy review of the race. We interviewed affected riders. We determined that the 7 horse drifted out and impacted the progress of Number 1 (War of Will), in turn, interfering with the 18 and 21 (Bodexpress). Those horses were all affected, we thought, by the interference. Therefore, we unanimously determined to disqualify Number 7 and place him behind the 18, the 18 being the lowest‑placed horse that he bothered, which is our typical procedure.”

According to the lawsuit, the stewards disallowed as “meritless” an objection by Flavien Prat, the jockey on Country House, who was elevated to the winner after Maximum Security was disqualified.

They sustained a separate objection by Jon Court, the jockey on Long Range Toddy, and it was as a result of that objection that Maximum Security was moved from first to 17th place, the suit alleges.

Jockey Flavien Prat, left, who rode Country House, who was declared the winner of the 145th Kentucky Derby, talks on the phone to the stewards as other jockeys, including Luis Saez, third from left, who finished first but was disqualified, talks following the Derby. Ryan C. Hermens

The suit claims that jockey Court also filed an objection with stewards against War of Will and jockey Tyler Gaffalione.

But the suit claims that the stewards did not interview Gaffalione or Chris Landeros, jockey on Bodexpress, the other horses named as impacted when Maximum Security drifted wide under jockey Saez.

On Monday, the stewards suspended Saez for 15 racing days for “failure to control his mount and make the proper effort to maintain a straight course thereby causing interference with several rivals that resulted in the disqualification of his mount.” Saez is expected to file an appeal. He is suspended from May 23 through June 14, which could cost him a ride in the Belmont, but an appeal typically stays the suspension.

No other jockey has been disciplined.

According to the suit, Servis and the public were not informed of Court’s objections prior to the announcement of the disqualifications and the official Derby chart was changed four days after it was originally posted to disclose the objection.

On Monday, Ann Oldfather, Saez’ attorney, gave the stewards a video that she said indicates War of Will was to blame for the Derby disqualification.

The Wests’ suit also alleges that the video “provides clear and convincing evidence that the initiating factor of the interference was the careless ride of Gaffalione and not the ride by Luis Saez.” The Wests claim the video shows War of Will struck Maximum Security five times.

“It has been acknowledged by virtually everyone that Maximum Security’s determined run in the remaining 20 percent of the race after having his hindquarters nearly taken out from under him by War of Will proved Maximum Security to be the best horse and deserving winner of the Derby,” the suit claims, “and proves that there was no substantial evidence for Maximum Security to have been disqualified for interference he did not cause and which, in any event, did not alter the outcome of the race.”

Mark Casse, trainer of War of Will, has defended his horse and jockey, claiming that Maximum Security cut them off twice.

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The suit said the statements made by chief steward Barbara Borden, accompanied by stewards Brooks “Butch” Becraft and Tyler Picklesimer, at Churchill Downs after the disqualification were false and misleading because they did not disclose that the all affected riders were not interviewed.

According to the filing, the betting public was adversely impacted by the stewards’ decision, with the losses to bettors on Maximum Security “is estimated to be more than $100 million.”

Through a spokesman, the Wests issued a statement saying they have empathy for people who lost money wagering on their horse. “It has been reported that a $100 million class action lawsuit is being considered by those who wagered on Maximum Security and were impacted by the lack of transparency and integrity assoicated with the disqualification process that lasted between 22 and 23 minutes. ... Since Gary and Mary West are not involved in any potentially class action there will be no further comment from the West team,” the statement said.

After the disqualification, Churchill Downs’ account-deposit wagering platform announced it would refund wagers on Maximum Security.

The suit alleges that the racing commission and the stewards exceeded their statutory authority; that the stewards abused their discretion because no prior Kentucky Derby winner had been disqualified for a foul even though other winners adversely impacted other horses; that the stewards disqualification order is “deficient under the law,” and that the statute used to cite Maximum Security is “unconstitutionally vague” on what it means if a leading horse is “clear.”

The suit contends that as lead horse Maximum Security was “entitled to any part of the track,” under Kentucky racing regulations.

But the regulation also states that if the horse “swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse of jockey ... this action shall be deemed a foul. ... If in the opinion of the stewards a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.”

The suit was filed against the individual members of the racing commission as well as the three stewards who disqualified Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court judge Karen K. Caldwell, chief judge of the Eastern District of Kentucky.

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