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Challenge issued

CRAWFORD | For Maximum Security owner, $20 million challenge is a winning bet

  • 3 min to read

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Gary West took his rags-to-(almost)-riches colt Maximum Security off the Triple Crown trail after he was disqualified from winning the Kentucky Derby. But on Friday, West won the Preakness – and maybe the rest of the year in horse racing – anyway.

Via a release reported by multiple national outlets, West is offering $5 million apiece to four Derby challengers if they can finish ahead of Maximum Security in any race, anywhere, at any time, before the end of the calendar year. He wants to face Country House, named the Kentucky Derby winner, Long Range Toddy, War of Will and Bodexpress on the track.

And with a single flick of the checkbook, the California billionaire will become the talk of Pimlico, of horse racing and perhaps one of the more intriguing stories in all of sports one day before the second leg of the Triple Crown is run.

He’s got my attention – in a far more constructive way than in filing a legal challenge with scant chance of winning.

The catch is this: The connections of those other horses would have to pay West $5 million if Maximum Security beats any of them. You might think, “nobody is going to do that, particularly not from this group, particularly not against a colt who hasn’t yet lost a race on the track, or even been passed in five tries.”

Take a look at the owners who have been challenged before you say that, however.

In his statement, West said he believes such matchups, “would result in record viewership and would generate worldwide interest.”

He’s right about that.

The matchups could come in the same race or in four different races. The other horses wouldn’t have to win those races. They’d just have to beat Maximum Security.

West pledged to donate any money he wins from the challenge to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. If no one takes him up on his offer, he said he’ll still donate 10 percent of the colt’s winnings to the fund.

In short, West just lapped the entire sport. Is it real confidence or just bravado because no one could reasonably expect one of the others to take up the $5 million bet? Or is it just proof that $20 million – which for West is roughly equivalent to $1,000 or less to most of us – isn’t too worried about money. And does it matter?

It’s old school. It’s not exactly a match race, but it’s the modern equivalent of Seabiscuit-War Admiral or Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian – minus the all-time-great racehorses. What can I say? The sport isn’t what it was.

But this offer is in keeping with the “my-horse-is-faster-than-your-horse” spirit, which, of course, is the spirit that gave the sport birth.

“Most experts agree that Maximum Security was the best horse in the Kentucky Derby,” West said in his statement. “I don’t care to discuss the controversy surrounding the events of the race and the disqualification of my horse at this time, but I firmly believe I have the best 3-year-old in the country and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.”

The legal challenge began in Federal court in Frankfort this week and could provide a few interesting twists, though most concede that little happened that would cause a Federal judge to set aside a ruling by state stewards.

Moreover, a legal challenge can be perceived by the public as whining, complaining, being ungracious.

But you know what the public can recognize: straight cash.

Will anyone take him up on his offer? War of Will’s owner is Gary Barber, the co-founder of Spyglass Entertainment and former CEO of MGM. He produced the movie Seabiscuit, along with the Ace Ventura movies, and The Tourist. He probably wouldn’t be too worried about $5 million.

Long Range Toddy is owned by Willis Horton, who founded a little company named D.R. Horton Custom Homes, which for many years has been the nation’s largest home builder. In other words, he’s doing all right.

Co-owner of Country House, Mrs. J.V. Shields, worked in special client services at Southeby’s and is the daughter of William Howard Flowers, Jr., the founder of Flowers Foods, which includes such labels as Wonder Bread, Tastycakes and Sunbeam. Her late husband, J.V. Shields, founded a Wall Street investment firm and had a career of more than 50 years on Wall Street. Another co-owner, Larry Roth of LNJ Foxwoods, sold his Marchon Eyewear in 2008 for $735 million.

And Bodexpress? No matter how much money Top Racing LLC owners, or the folks who have Global Racing and GDS Racing Stable, they might want to think long and hard before betting $5 million on a colt that has yet to win a race.

Who knows? Maybe somebody gets creative. Maybe the owner of Country House challenges Maximum Security to a 2-mile match race and bets on distance pedigree. Maybe somebody figures the free publicity helps mitigate the risk.

All I know is that it’s a lot more constructive – and fun – than a lengthy court battle.

Now, as it turns out, we get both.

I expect West’s offer will make fans and people within the industry sit up and take notice – which in May, with the Triple Crown no longer on the line – is more than the sport generally gets.

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