Horse racing: Appeal over Kentucky Derby disqualification denied

By Frank Pingue
FILE PHOTO: May 4, 2019; Louisville, KY, USA; Flavien Prat aboard Country House (20) , Tyler Gaffalione aboard War of Will (1) , Luis Saez aboard Maximum Security (7) and John Velazquez aboard Code of Honor (13) race during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) - An appeal filed by the owner of Maximum Security, the horse that finished first in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday but was later disqualified for interference, was denied by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday.

The appeal was filed by an attorney for Gary West, whose horse became the first winner to be disqualified for an on-track infraction.

The racing commission called the request "moot" because the decision to disqualify Maximum Security and install second-placed Country House as winner was not subject to appeal.

"The stewards unanimously disqualified Maximum Security following two objections lodged immediately after the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby and after a thorough review of the race replay," the commission wrote in a letter.

"That determination is not subject to an appeal."

After a 20-minute video review, officials found that Maximum Security, who was 4-1 favorite to win the 1-1/4 mile race, was guilty of a contact foul when he appeared to take a wide turn and impede other horses in the home stretch.

The disqualification ruling handed the win to Country House, which had been a 65-1 long shot.

West told NBC's "Today" earlier on Monday that the dramatic turn on events at Churchill Downs left him "stunned, shocked and in total disbelief" and that his bay colt would not be in the field for the May 18 Preakness Stakes, the second leg of U.S. thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown.

"It was literally like the old TV show, 'The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat', all within a 22-minute period of time," said West, who owns Maximum Security with his wife.

"Winning it was the most euphoric thing I have probably ever had in our lives and disappointment when they took the horse down for the first time in history, we were stunned, shocked and in total disbelief. It had never been done before."

The decision even caught the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who said on Twitter the disqualification of Maximum Security could only happen in "these days of political correctness".

West said he did see Maximum Security, who led from nearly start to finish, move over several lanes but felt such contact was inevitable given the number of horses allowed to race in the Kentucky Derby, which usually features 20 horses but this year had 19 year after a late scratch.

"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," said West.

"Just because they can make more money, they're willing to risk horses' lives and peoples' lives to do that. I'm not a fan of that. I think they ought to have 14 like every other race.," said West.

"Yes I saw the horse move out, but every Kentucky Derby, you could sit down two or three or four horses if you wanted to, because it's like a rodeo out there."

When asked for comment, Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said in an email to Reuters that the infraction by Maximum Security had nothing to do with the number of horses in the race and that there is no evidence to the contrary.

West said there would be no rematch with Country House when Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course hosts the Preakness Stakes.

"We are not going to run The Preakness," said West. "There's no Triple Crown on the line for us, and no reason to run a horse back in two weeks when you don't have to."

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Bill Trott, Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar)