Maximum Security owner: Derby disqualification ‘egregious’

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Maximum Security co-owner Gary West criticized race stewards’ disqualification of his horse’s Kentucky Derby victory as “egregious” and said he was pondering his next step, including a possible appeal.

“I think this is the most egregious disqualification in the history of horse racing, and not just because it’s our horse,” West told The Associated Press by phone Saturday night.

Several hours earlier, Maximum Security appeared to back up his undefeated record with a 1}-length victory in the slop over Country House in the Kentucky Derby. The victory was overturned 22 minutes later with a stunning decision by the stewards to disqualify the 9-2 second choice because of interference.

Runner-up Country House, a 65-1 long shot, was elevated to the winner’s circle to the astonishment of Maximum Security’s team, which insisted the horse did not cut off his competitors.

West said his team is exploring options to appeal, starting with the stewards. The owner said stewards told him he can see a replay of the incident on Thursday.

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission chief steward Barbara Borden said the riders of Long Range Toddy and Country House lodged objections against Maximum Security for interference.

“We had a lengthy review of the race,” Borden said. “We interviewed affected riders. We determined that (Maximum Security) drifted out and impacted the progress of War of Will, in turn interfering with the 18 and 21. Those horses were all affected by the interference.”

Maximum Security was dropped to 17th of 19 horses, placed behind all the horses it was determined that he bothered.

Borden did not take questions and exited the news briefing to shouts from reporters about a lack of transparency. West said there wasn’t much jockey Luis Saez could do to control Maximum Security on a sloppy track.

“When you’re leg weary, you’re not going to run straight all the time,” he said. “Horses don’t either.”

Said Saez, “I never put anybody in danger.”

Trainer Jason Servis agreed with the jockey in the immediate aftermath and added, “He straightened him up right away and I didn’t think it affects the outcome of the race.”

The stewards disagreed, culminating in the first Derby winner being disqualified because of interference. The last objection in the Derby was filed in 2001 by jockey John Velasquez, who claimed interference by winner Monarchos and jockey Jorge Chavez. Stewards did not sustain the objection.

This time, they did.

The controversial finish capped an eventful weekend at Churchill Downs in two of the sport’s marquee races.

Friday’s Kentucky Oaks for fillies began with a scary spill at the start by Positive Spirit that dumped rider Manny Franco. Neither the horse nor rider was injured, and both walked off the track. Serengeti Empress won the race in her first start since pulling up early in March at Fair Grounds with external bleeding.

The incidents come soon after the industry enacted a raft of medication and safety rules changes following the deaths of 23 horses over three months at California’s Santa Anita.

For Maximum Security, the disappointing reversal spoiled what appeared to be his statement performance after 4-0 start.

The son of New Year’s Day and Lil Indy by Anasheed was coming off a 3+-length victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30 that established him as the Derby’s only unbeaten horse.

For a brief moment, Maximum Security and his team appeared to bask in victory before the long wait and the disqualification, which might not be the final step.

“If we can’t appeal to the stewards,” West said, “our other options are the state racing commission. If those don’t work, we might go to legal options. … But we have not seen what they saw.”

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert
Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”