By T. D. Thornton
The defendants in the lawsuit over the controversial May 4 disqualification of the GI Kentucky Derby winner have asked a federal judge to dismiss the suit on grounds that the litigation “fails to state a claim…upon which relief can be granted.”
The three stewards assigned to Churchill Downs, plus the 14 board members and the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC), filed a 167-page “motion to dismiss” June 8 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky (Lexington Division), citing the alleged failure by the plaintiffs, Gary and Mary West, to follow Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
The lawsuit, which was initiated by the owners of Maximum Security (New Year’s Day), seeks the reversal of the unprecedented Derby DQ, plus reinstatement of the original order of finish “confirming that Maximum Security is the official winner of the Derby who remains undefeated.”
The Wests are alleging that “the final order is not supported by substantial evidence on the whole record” and that the DQ “violates plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural due process.”
But the KHRC, et al, fired back in court with this latest filing, claiming that “the same rules apply to every horse race, whether a Friday night claiming race or the Kentucky Derby. Under those rules, Maximum Security did not win the Derby, and the Wests did not win the Derby purse. And under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Wests fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
The motion to dismiss continues: “The Kentucky Derby is the most prestigious horse race in the world. And horse racing may be the ‘sport of kings,’ but it is still that–a sport. As with every sport, it has rules to foster consistent, fair, and safe play, and neutral arbiters, whether called referees, umpires, judges–or in this case, stewards–who enforce those rules.
“The Wests disagree with the stewards’ call to disqualify Maximum Security,” the motion continues. “And they disagree with the Commission’s decision to make that call conclusive. Instead, the Wests want this Court to make the call and determine the winner of the Derby–a demand that threatens to transform the ‘most exciting two minutes in sports’ into tedious, protracted litigation.
“But their mere disagreement is insufficient to support a claim that their Constitutional–or any other–legal rights have been violated,” the motion states. “In fact, they allege no valid cause of action at all. The Court should therefore dismiss the Wests’ Complaint as a matter of law.”
The three stewards who officiated the Derby–chief state steward Barbara Borden, state steward Brooks “Butch” Becraft, and Churchill Downs steward Tyler Picklesimer–launched a post-Derby adjudication process that lasted 22 minutes and played out on national TV as they debated whether Maximum Security’s shifting out while leading on the far turn caused crowding that affected rivals in close pursuit and almost triggered a clipping-of-heels accident.
In the aftermath of two jockeys’ objections–but no posted stewards’ inquiry–Maximum Security was judged to have fouled Long Range Toddy (Take Charge Indy) and thus placed behind that rival in 17th place. Country House (Lookin At Lucky), who crossed the wire second, was elevated to first place and recognized as the official Derby winner.
The Wests’ May 14 suit claims that they were denied their allegedly rightful part of the $1,860,000 share of the Derby purse “as well as a professional accomplishment that any horseman would cherish for life, plus the very substantial value that a Kentucky Derby winner has as a stallion.”
The defendants’ June 8 motion to dismiss states that, “The Wests have not sufficiently stated a cause of action entitling them to the unprecedented relief they seek because they have identified no due process deprivation and the KHRC appropriately rendered its conclusive disqualification determinations.”
The motion cites legal precedents for dismissal of this type of suit, including one that states that plaintiffs “can have no legitimate claim of entitlement to a discretionary decision.”
Another states that only after the plaintiffs demonstrate a protected property interest can a court “consider the form and nature of the process that is due.”
In summing up the motion to dismiss, the defendants’ filing states “Quite simply, the Wests fail to identify a legitimate claim of entitlement to any property interest based upon Kentucky statute, regulation, or case law. Thus, their due process claim fails as a matter of law, and should be dismissed.”
Beyond the above-named stewards, other defendants in the suit are KHRC executive director Marc Guilfoil, chairman Franklin King, vice chair Mark Simendinger, and board members Gatewood Bell, Jr., Larry Bisig, Stuart Brown II, DVM, Kerry Cauthen, Kiki Courtelis, Pat. Day, Douglas Hendrickson, Lesley Ann May Howard, Kenneth Jackson, Bret Jones, Foster Northrop, DVM, and J. David Richardson.