Nearly two weeks after apparent winner Maximum Security was disqualified from the Kentucky Derby for impeding the progress of other horses, his owners have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court asking that the Churchill Downs stewards’ decision be reversed and that Maximum Security be confirmed as “the official winner of the Derby.”
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Frankfort, Ky., also asks for the court to “redistribute all purse monies in accordance with the revised order of finish.” Country House, which was declared the winner after Maximum Security was disqualified and slotted into 17th place by the stewards, took home the $1.86 million winner’s share.
“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 lawsuit reads, adding that the disqualification process was “bizarre and unconstitutional,” 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.
After two jockeys filed objections immediately following the Kentucky Derby, the three-member panel of stewards at Churchill Downs pored over video replay of the race for about 22 minutes before determining that Maximum Security had veered out of his path and interfered with War of Will, who then impeded two other horses.
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs and Ann Oldfather, attorney for Maximum Security jockey Luis Saez, both claim to have evidence that War of Will and jockey Tyler Gaffalione should be blamed for the Derby disqualification, with the lawsuit asserting that War of Will struck Maximum Security five times.
The lawsuit also argues that the stewards’ statement failed to explain “how, or whether” any of the impacted horses would have finished better without the alleged interference, claiming that “after the brief moment of the alleged impact by Maximum Security leaving the ¼ pole, the allegedly impacted horses had a lengthy and unobstructed running path throughout the entire length of the Churchill Downs stretch.”
Two days after the Derby, Maximum Security’s owners appealed the stewards’ decision to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which quickly denied the appeal, ruling that the stewards’ decision is final under the state’s horse racing regulations.
Louisville attorney Bob Heleringer, author of “Equine Regulatory Law,” told the Courier-Journal this month that judges usually defer to stewards and racing commissions because of their specialized expertise, though the U.S. Supreme Court also has ruled that racetrack employees and licensees have due process rights. The lawsuit filed by Maximum Security’s owners claims that the lack of an appeals process in Kentucky is a violation of those rights.
Just last year, according to the Courier-Journal, a Louisiana appeals court ruled that the stewards at Louisiana Downs were incorrect in disqualifying a horse named Coalport and jockey Rosie Napravnik from a first-place finish in the 2014 Unbridled Stakes. After hearing testimony from all parties involved and reviewing video of the race, a three-judge panel ruled that the second-place horse would not have won even if the race had been clean.
However, in Louisiana the state racing commission may hear appeals of stewards’ decisions, which is not the case in Kentucky.
On Monday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission suspended Saez for 15 racing days over the Derby incident, saying he failed “to control his mount and make the proper effort to maintain a straight course.” Unlike stewards’ decisions about the winner of a horse race, the sanctioning of a jockey may be appealed, and Oldfather has said the jockey plans to do so.