Kentucky Derby DQ Saga Somehow Gets Even More Bizarre

by James Murphy in Horses  / May 6, 2019

  • Maximum Security appeared to win the Kentucky Derby but was disqualified after a post race inquiry was upheld.
  • 65-1 shot Country House was the beneficiary and won the Kentucky Derby.
  • This was the first time in Kentucky Derby history that a horse was disqualified for an on-track infraction.

I’m generally a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy and so I woke up Monday morning hopeful that I wouldn’t see Maximum Security’s owner Gary West in the media. My fingers were crossed that after a good night’s sleep Mr. West would come to his senses and although justifiably disappointed regain some grasp on reality.

My hopes were quickly dashed when I learned that West had been a guest on the TODAY Show and that his logic about why Maximum Security should be returned to his ‘rightful spot’ as winner of the Kentucky Derby had become even more deranged. In the span of a few news cycles, West has gone from a respected and generally well liked horse owner to an understandably disappointed and sympathetic figure to a sore loser and raging loon.

WHAT HAPPENED ON MONDAY

Lawyers for Gary West appealed the decision of the stewards to disqualify Maximum Security to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, responsible for oversight of the sport in the Bluegrass State. Since the regulations clearly specify that the decision of the stewards to disqualify a horse is ‘not subject to appeal’ it was summarily denied and rightfully so. Now West is claiming that he’s going to sue to overturn the Kentucky Derby disqualification, though it’s not apparent what the rationale will be.

In fact, it’s becoming more and more difficult to understand why West thinks that he and his horse are being treated unfairly. It sounds like he’s grasping at whatever straws are convenient at the moment. On the TODAY show he again wrongly suggested that Kentucky stewards treated him unfairly when in actuality they were following a long established protocol:

“We are going to file an appeal today with the state racing commission. Right after the race, I had the trainer call the stewards and very nicely ask them if they would be willing to visit with us after the races were over. I said, ‘We’ll stay here until 11, 12 o’clock at night, whatever you want,’ and they said, ‘Absolutely not, we won’t be showing the films until Thursday.’ We didn’t really have any alternative legally … the appeal has to be filed within 48 hours.”

On Sunday he had advanced a similar argument suggesting a ‘lack of transparency’ from Kentucky racing officials:

“The stewards have refused to allow anyone to see their video and talk to them, so I don’t know what I am going to do. I can’t believe their total lack of transparency on a matter of this magnitude.”

There’s a few problems with all of this. The Kentucky authorities typically review this type of infraction on the next day of racing. This is by design for a number of reasons. At the time of West’s request, the Saturday card had not ended. The next day of racing is on Thursday. West is not the victim of an elaborate plot, but simply complaining that the officials weren’t willing to abandon protocol to accommodate him. His suggestion that there was no legal alternative to a quick appeal is also incorrect. On Monday, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) Executive Director said that should West want to file an appeal they wouldn’t use the fact that there will be no racing at Churchill Downs until Thursday to block it:

Guilfoil also said if the connections of Maximum Security want to appeal Saturday’s decision by the stewards, the fact Churchill doesn’t race again until Thursday won’t be used to block an appeal. Kentucky rules have different deadlines for filing appeals, depending on what rules violation is claimed, with the shortest of those being 48 hours and a catch-all rule being one week.

West also suggests that the KHRC has some equine version of the Zapruder film in their possession. The insinuation is that their ‘cut’ of the race is the only one that shows an infraction. This is also not true–in fact, there are plenty of videos that clearly show that Maximum Security veered outward by several paths and interfered with the horses on the outside. It’s not really clear why West continually says that he needs to look at the video to determine if a lawsuit will be forthcoming. It’s out there on YouTube among many other places. The video we linked to yesterday also shows the infraction clearly:

145TH KENTUCKY DERBY EXTENDED RACE VIDEO

WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT?

West’s argumentative points are becoming increasingly bizarre. On the TODAY show he reiterated his previous point about Country House’s jockey Flavien Prat claiming a foul. He then got onto a tangent about the size of the Kentucky Derby field, presumably suggesting that fouling was inevitable:

“In every Kentucky Derby you can sit down two, three, or four horses if you wanted to because it’s like a rodeo out there.”

He also suggested that the reason for 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby field was simple greed on the part of Churchill Downs:

“You shouldn’t have 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs, because they’re a greedy organization, has [20 horses] rather than 14 like you have in the Kentucky Oaks, the Breeders’ Cup, 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. I’m not a fan of that. I think you should have 14 like every other race …”

There have been plenty of reasonable horse racing experts to suggest that the Derby field is too large. My personal take–it’s just one unique component to the race. Besides, it’s nothing new. The first Kentucky Derby in 1875 had a 17 horse field. The field was expanded to 20 in 1975 but for some reason West didn’t take issue with that in the interceding 44 years. Not that the size of the field had anything to do with Maximum Security’s disqualification.

The stewards properly determined a foul occurred and disqualified Maximum Security. When he moved out several lanes, it hampered the chances of War of Will and others, just as they ruled—a foul that can happen any day in any size field. Fortunately, a dangerous situation wasn’t disastrous. Beyond fairness of competition, interference rules also exist to ensure the safety of competitors, equine and human.

As far as the ‘greed factor’ being Churchill Downs’ motivation behind the larger field–Churchill Downs Incorporated had revenues of over a billion dollars in 2018. Want to guess how much additional they pocketed by having 20 horses as opposed to the 17 horse field that ran in the first Kentucky Derby? Try $150,000–$25,000 per horse for entering the race and $25,000 per horse for starting the race.

WEST SAYS HE’S GOING TO SUE

The latest is that West says that he will ‘file a lawsuit in the appropriate jurisdiction’ after his appeal was denied. Based on his subsequent comments, I might suggest that Never Never Land be considered as an appropriate jurisdiction. On Monday, he suggested that once the secret video was shown ‘frame by frame’ that it will show that it was *his* horse that was interfered with:

“I think when it’s all said and done and all the evidence is put on display, frame by frame in slow motion, you will find that the 1 horse [Will to Win] actually caused the infraction, not our horse. And … I believe it will eventually show that if the 1 horse would have finished ahead of our horse, we would have had every right in the world to claim an objection against the 1 horse.”

The analysis about Will to Win’s ability to create a flux in the gravitational field strong enough to pull Maximum Security out of his lane along the rail at a crucial point in the race will be fascinating to say the least.

In general, it looks like the Kentucky racing stewards got this one right. Not sure how West can come up with a rationale to have the decision overturned, in court or anywhere else. He’s clearly disappointed but there’s very little to suggest that the rules were incorrectly applied to disqualify Maximum Security.

One thing that the stewards *should* have done was to put up the ‘inquiry’ sign. This was not done and that led to confusion among viewers, bettors and horsemen. The Bloodhorse makes a reasonable suggestion that state racing regulations should be amended to require the inquiry sign:

Kentucky rules should be changed to require stewards post the inquiry sign if they initiate a review. Also, when an objection is filed and the stewards begin to look at incidents beyond the initial claim of foul, the inquiry should be posted. Believe it or not, it may not currently be required.

Maximum Security won’t run in the Preakness and that’s probably the right move. West has couched it in a way that makes it sound like ‘sour grapes’ but unless the Triple Crown is in play there’s not a good reason to bring the horse back on two weeks rest.

James Murphy

James Murphy is a preeminent authority on the international gambling industry and has made frequent appearances in the mainstream media including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, Entertainment Weekly, CNBC and NPR. He has previously worked as a radio and podcasting host where he broadcast to an international audience that depended on his expertise and advice. Murphy also serves as an odds making consultant for sports and ‘non-sport novelty bets’ covering the entertainment industry, politics, technology, financial markets and just about everything else.

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