Maximum Security: Appeal of horse’s Derby disqualification denied by Kentucky Horse Racing Commission

Maximum Security: Appeal of horse’s Derby disqualification denied by Kentucky Horse Racing Commission
Maximum Security’s owners on Monday filed an appeal with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission following Saturday’s unprecedented disqualification of their Kentucky Derby-winning horse. (Photo: Dan Dry/PriceWeber)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Maximum Security’s owners on Monday filed an appeal with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission following Saturday’s unprecedented disqualification of their Kentucky Derby-winning horse.

Within hours, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission denied the appeal, sources confirm to WAVE 3 News.

A letter sent by the Public Protection Cabinet to Lexington-based attorney Barry Stilz, the Wests’ legal counsel, said in part;

“Because the stewards’ disqualification determination is not subject to appeal and for reasons set forth below your request for an appeal is denied.”

It went on to say “the regulations governing horse racing in Kentucky provide that in making determinations on objections, the stewards’ findings of fact and determination shall be final and shall not be subject to appeal”.

Maximum Security cleared the finish line ahead of his 18 rivals, but two jockeys claimed foul against his jockey, Luis Saez, for allegedly bothering multiple horses near the top of the stretch as the pack headed for home.

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One of those jockeys, Flavien Prat, was aboard Country House, which was declared the winner after a tense, 22-minute inquiry immediately following the race.

Monday, owners Gary and Mary West filed the appeal through Lexington-based attorney Barry Stilz.

“The stewards’ acts in reviewing the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby were arbitrary and capricious, and did not comply with applicable administrative regulations,” the appeal read. “Their determination to disqualify Maximum Security is not supported by substantial evidence.”

The appeal also requested that “all related purse monies be withheld and placed in escrow pending final determination of the matter.”

The Wests requested a hearing with the KHRC, as well as “copies of all views considered by the Stewards in connection with their decision to qualify Maximum Security; recordings of all statements made by jockeys, trainers, and others that were obtained and considered by the Stewards in reaching that determination, the Stewards’ notes concerning and the recording of their nearly 22 minutes of deliberations,” among other items.

Gary West spoke candidly Monday in an interview on NBC’s TODAY show, criticizing chief steward Barbara Borden’s for only reading a prepared statement to media following the race, and not taking questions from the media.

“I was a bit shocked and surprised that the stewards wrote a statement that was probably prepared by their lawyers and refused, literally refused, to take a single question from the media,” West told the TODAY show. "They’ve been about as non-transparent about this whole thing as anything I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Legendary jockey Steve Cauthen told WAVE 3 News on Monday that while he realizes the stewards have a job to do, he thought Saez actually did a commendable job of guiding Maximum Security when the horse may have been spooked due to crowd noise.

“To me, his jockey immediately reacted and did everything he could to straighten him out," Cauthen said. “He reacted as quick as anybody I’ve ever seen to try to adjust to what had happened.”

Louisville attorney Joel B. Turner, who has litigated equine law and stewards’ rulings on both sides for 34 years, thought the disqualification was merited.

“I’m not going to second guess the stewards,” he said, before referring to the videotaped replay of the race. “We see how far he’s drifted out off the rail and affected the ability of (other horses) to have a clear path."

West, who told TODAY that Maximum Security won’t run in the Preakness on May 18, also offered some sharp words for Churchill Downs, which allows up to 20 horses to run in the Derby, more than any race in the country.

“They’re a greedy organization,” he said. “Rather than 14 (horses), like you have in the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeder’s Cup (and) every other race in America. Just because they can make more money, they’re willing to risk horses’ lives and people’s lives to do that.”

Churchill Downs responded to West’s comments on Monday:

“The infraction committed by Maximum Security has nothing to do with the number of horses in the race, which has been a consistent number for many years, and there is no evidence to the contrary," the statement said.

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