Sidelines with John Clay

Gary West’s $20 million challenge is merely a publicity stunt

Just when some fear horse racing might go the way of the circus, Gary West apparently wants to turn it into one.

The aggrieved owner of Maximum Security issued a combined $20 million challenge to the horses of Country House, War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress after West’s horse was disqualified and placed behind those horses most affected by the foul in the Kentucky Derby back on May 4.

Under West’s publicity stunt of a challenge, if any of those four finish ahead of Maximum Security head-to-head in a future race, West will pay the owners $5 million. Under the terms of the deal, West would expect the competing owner to pay him $5 million if Maximum Security finishes ahead of his or her horse.

If the opposing owners do not wish to put up $5 million, West said he would make the bet $1.86 million, the winner’s share for the Kentucky Derby.

West, who is worth a reported $2 billion, said he will donate his winnings to the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund. If none of the owners accept, he will donate 10 percent of Maximum Security’s future winnings to the fund.

None of the owners will accept, of course. Why would they? Having a race-within-a-race featuring an outrageous monetary side bet demeans the race itself if not the sport.

Plus, I don’t remember any of those connections claiming their horse was better than Maximum Security on Derby day. What I do remember, and continue to hear, is that most inside the industry agree that the stewards made the right call on Derby day.

“I personally think Maximum Security was the best horse in the race,” Elliot Walden, CEO and Racing Manger of Improbable, who was placed fourth in the Derby, said Friday at Pimlico. “At the same time, he did cause a foul that probably on a Wednesday afternoon would have come down.”

West disagrees. He has accused Churchill Downs of being a “greedy organization” and railed against the Kentucky Racing Commission for not approving his appeal. West filed suit in federal court this week in hopes of overturning the Derby decision.

With Maximum Security not running in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, West is scheduled to do a live interview during NBC’s race coverage. Now, the day before the second leg of the Triple Crown, West issued his hey-look-at-me challenge.

“Most experts agree that Maximum Security was the best horse in the Kentucky Derby,” West said in his statement. “I don’t care to discuss the controversy surrounding the events of the race and the disqualification at this time, but I firmly believe I have the best 3-year-old in the country and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.”

There is plenty of time left to prove that boast without a $5 million challenge. There’s the Belmont Stakes in June, the Haskell Invitational in July, the Travers in late August and the Breeders’ Cup in November.

Time to move on.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader