LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In some ways, the lawsuit filed by owners of disqualified Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Maximum Security in federal court this week contained little that wasn't already known.
The owners, Gary and Mary West, believe that their colt was the victim of reckless riding, and was wrongfully taken down as the rightful winner of the world's most famous horse race. We've known that for a while.
But as usually happens, the actual filing of a case brings additional details to light. The following details may have zero bearing on any upcoming ruling – a judge is more likely to be concerned with matters like the statutory authority of the stewards and whether they acted within it than any argument about the running of the race.
Still, there were a few tidbits that make reconstructing what happened during the 22 minutes between Maximum Security crossing the finish line and being disqualified and placed 17th a bit more clear – or a bit less.
Remember the caveat -- this complaint represents only one side of the story.
1). THE OBJECTION BY COUNTRY HOUSE JOCKEY FLAVIAN PRAT WAS DISMISSED. At least from the standpoint of the legal team that filed the brief, race stewards refused to take action on the original (and most immediate) claim of foul after the race. In the words of the complaint, "stewards disallowed Prat’s objection because it was meritless."
Country House was the prime beneficiary of the stewards' ultimate decision to disqualify Maximum Security, as he was elevated to the position of winner.
After the race, Prat and Country House trainer Bill Mott faced questions about why they claimed foul. In fact, it turns out that their decision to raise an objection may have had no bearing on the stewards' decision.
2). THE OBJECTION THE STEWARDS UPHELD WAS NOT AGAINST MAXIMUM SECURITY. The objection that did hold water, and which resulted in the first on-track disqualification of a winner in 145 years of Kentucky Derby history, was made by jockey Jon Court, rider of Long Range Toddy. But according to this suit, his objection was to a foul by War of Will to his inside (who stewards determined was pushed out by Maximum Security).
Court told WDRB last week that he was in danger of being thrown from his mount because of the bumping, and that as a result, he stopped "race riding" and began to ride in such a way as to protect riders around him from a tragic mishap.
The suit raises questions about how the process proceeded with Court's objection. It says Maximum Security trainer Jason Servis wasn't told of Court's objection during two conversations with stewards, nor was the public.
Court told WDRB he made his objection after dismounting his colt.
"It was so loud I had to get down close to the ground and cup my hands around the phone and I repeated myself three times, and obviously I don’t think they heard everything I said," he said. "But it was well aware, and I’m not shy to tell them, I'd not file an objection, believe me of all races ... it weighed on me terribly."
3). THE ORIGINAL RACE CHART DID NOT INCLUDE COURT'S OBJECTION, BUT WAS AMENDED DAYS LATER. At least, that’s what this suit alleges, "based upon information and belief." A look at the Equibase chart that ran in The Courier-Journal the morning after the race shows the comment: "The jockey of Country House lodged an objection against Maximum Security for interference nearing the five-sixteenths marker. Following the Stewards' review Maximum Security was disqualified from first and placed seventeenth for veering out and stacking up War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress."
The official race comments at Equibase now note that the jockeys of Long Range Toddy and Country House both filed objections.
Whether the chart was changed at the request of stewards or in an effort to give an accurate accounting on the part of Equibase is not known.
The point here is a minor one, but goes to demonstrate the confusion of the moment, and could give credence to the defense's argument that not all procedures were followed by stewards.
4). APPARENTLY, THE MEANING OF THE WORD 'CLEAR' IS NOT CLEAR. Kentucky rules provide that once the leader of the race has drawn clear, he "is entitled to any part of the track."
If, at any point, Maximum Security might have been considered clear in the Derby, it's hard to imagine that would include the time when he actually veered right.
Still, the suit argues that because state rules do not specifically define the word "clear," the rule "is unconstitutionally vague and, therefore, void."
"The word 'clear' on its face, and in the context in which it is used, and as applied to Plaintiffs is ambiguous," the complaint claims, ". . . no one knows how or whether the Stewards interpreted that pivotal word."
5). 'NO HARM, NO FOUL,' IS ACTUALLY IN THE COMPLAINT. Attorneys for the owners of Maximum Security say that because there was plenty of ground left after the contact, competitors had plenty of time to steady, regroup and make a run for the finish.
The suit alleges that a foul against Long Range Toddy should be of no consequence, because he finished 17th. This fails to take into account that Court said he had to stop "race riding" to deal with the commotion around the horse.
Moreover, the notion that a horse can recover from being bumped or having to check at the head of the stretch is misguided.
Still, attorneys argue, "In exercising their discretion the Stewards failed to take into account the equitable maxim that where there is no harm there is no foul."
Harm, however, may well be in the eye – and saddle – of the beholder.
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