Owners of Derby Horse Sue to Overturn Disqualification

Luis Saez riding Maximum Security, second from right, goes around turn four with Flavien Prat riding Country House, left, Tyler Gaffalione riding War of Will and John Velazquez riding Code of Honor, right, during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) – The owners of Maximum Security, the horse controversially disqualified from this year’s Kentucky Derby, brought a federal lawsuit against the state’s Horse Racing Commission seeking to restore the horse’s victory. 

Gary and Mary West claim the disqualification decision was not supported by sufficient evidence, and called the review process “bizarre and unconstitutional” in the complaint filed late Tuesday in Frankfort federal court.

Maximum Security finished first in the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, but was disqualified after several jockeys lodged objections for interference. It was the first time in the race’s history a horse that crossed the finish line first was disqualified.

The horse’s owners, represented by Barry Stilz of Kinkead & Stilz in Lexington, dispute the evidence used by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to make its controversial decision that Maximum Security had crossed over a large portion of the track and interfered with other horses.

The lawsuit says there is no evidence to support a finding that the horse was not entitled to any portion of the track, and also cites the complaining jockeys’ falls to the back of the pack as evidence that Maximum Security did not hinder their performances.

“It has been acknowledged by virtually everyone that Maximum Security’s determined run in the remaining 20% 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 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,” the complaint states.

The Wests claim the commission and its members lied to media members about the process used to disqualify their horse, thereby cutting them out of their share of the $3 million purse.

Race stewards said they interviewed the jockeys allegedly affected by Maximum Security, a claim the Wests dispute.

“Neither Tyler Gaffalione, the rider of the horse the stewards said was the most ‘affected’ by Maximum Security, nor Chris Landeros, the jockey of Bodexpress, was interviewed by the stewards,” the lawsuit states.

The Wests say they were also denied an opportunity to appeal the stewards’ decision, despite the ruling in March v. the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, a 2015 unpublished opinion from the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

“March,” says the complaint, “cites to and relies on KRS 13B.150, which confers judicial authority to review and reverse the final order disallowing Maximum Security.”

The horse’s owners seek an order reversing the decision to disqualify Maximum Security and declaring it the winner of the 145th Kentucky Derby, as well as an order declaring the “fouls” section of the Kentucky administrative regulations for horseracing unconstitutional.

A spokeswoman for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission told the Louisville Courier Journal that it has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

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