CDI: Ruling Favoring Muth Would Create 'Media Circus' That 'Jeopardizes the Wellbeing of Horses'

Churchill Downs | Coady

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Churchill Downs Inc., (CDI) invoked a horse-health argument on Monday in an attempt to get the Kentucky Court of Appeals not to overturn the banishment of trainer Bob Baffert that Thoroughbred owner Amr Zedan is trying to reverse so his 'TDN Rising Star' Muth (Good Magic) can gain entry into the GI Kentucky Derby.

“This case has already drawn intense media attention,” CDI stated in one of two court filings Apr. 22 that seek to halt Zedan's incorporated racing stable from moving forward with its appeal for emergency relief and a temporary injunction. “A court order compelling CDI to house Muth on its property for a week, with a suspended trainer in tow, would create a media circus and would be an enormous distraction for Churchill Downs, its personnel, and other owners and trainers that have fairly earned a berth to the Derby (in addition to overtly infringing CDI's property rights).

“That is hardly a fair result-and it is one that jeopardizes the well-being of horses being housed at the track who have earned the right to be there under the rules,” CDI alleged.

“This Court should deny all of Zedan's requested relief,” CDI concluded.

On Apr. 18, a lower court in Kentucky denied a motion by Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. to make Muth eligible for the Derby by forcing CDI to drop its ban against Baffert.

CDI had barred Baffert from its properties shortly after the 2021 Derby, which the now-disqualified, Zedan-owned, Baffert-trained Medina Spirit won while testing positive for betamethasone.

Baffert's ban was initially just supposed to last for two Derbies. But in July 2023 CDI extended the penalty through 2024.

Baffert is not a party to Zedan's lawsuit. The Hall-of-Fame trainer had already lost a similar lawsuit in a federal court in 2023 that sought to put an end to CDI's ban.

Last Friday, the day after the lower court refused to grant an injunction favoring Muth, Zedan asked the appeals court to consider, “At a minimum, a partial injunction [enabling] Muth to be stabled under Derby rules at Churchill Downs Racetrack by 11:00 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, Apr. 27.”

Zedan reasoned that, “Such an approach will properly protect the rights and interests that hang in the balance and enable the upcoming Derby to proceed as it should, with all qualified horses racing and the very best horse winning.”

CDI's filings on Monday told the Kentucky Court of Appeals that, “Zedan's lawsuit is the horseracing equivalent of asking a court to kick out teams that had earned a spot in March Madness on the eve of the tournament and replace them with teams that did not qualify under the existing rules for qualification.”

CDI's filing on Monday gave its view on what transpired in the lower court last week: “The Circuit Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Zedan's last-minute bid to litigate its way into the Derby and displace up to three horses that earned their berths under rules in place for many months.”

At a different point, CDI argued, “Like all private entities, CDI has the right to determine who may participate in events that it organizes and hosts on its own property. That right is confirmed under Kentucky common law and regulations issued by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

“Nothing in the law gives Zedan a right to challenge the basis for CDI's decision to extend Baffert's suspension,” CDI continued. “The Jefferson Circuit Court correctly rejected Zedan's eleventh-hour attempt to litigate its way into the Kentucky Derby. As the Circuit Court held, Zedan failed to establish any of the three requirements for a temporary injunction.”

Zedan's Apr. 19 filing hadn't seen it that way. “Without purporting to find any substantive justification for CDI's ban, the Jefferson Circuit Court denied [the] request for injunctive relief,” it stated.

Zedan's filing from last Friday further alleged that CDI was “excluding a horse based on a trainer's public 'narrative' rather than actual qualifications, compliance, and merit.”

There was one thing that Zedan and CDI did agree to on Monday: That with five days until the Derby entry deadline, and 12 days until the race itself, both sides stated they were willing to do whatever they could to speed up the process and get an answer from the appeals court as swiftly as possible.

To that end, CDI earlier on Monday had agreed to expedite its filing of the above-referenced  legal responses. The gaming corporation could have waited until the court-ordered deadline of Wednesday, Apr. 24.

Zedan's legal team, too, made it known that it was willing and able to move quickly to facilitate a quick court order.

“To further assist the Court as it works towards prompt, informed resolution of this emergency appeal, counsel for Zedan will stand available for oral argument at any time and via any means that the Court may deem helpful and fitting,” Zedan's Apr. 22 legal filing stated.

“Zedan and its counsel greatly appreciate this Court's expedited attention and will continue working with Churchill Downs on an appropriate, agreeable process even as important disputes persist between the parties on the merits,” the filing stated.

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