Ky Appeals Court Denies Zedan 'Emergency' Relief for Muth's Derby Eligibility

Amr Zedan | Fasig-Tipton photo

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A Kentucky Court of Appeals judge on Wednesday denied a motion by Amr Zedan's incorporated racing stable that would have conferred “emergency” status on his legal quest to get 'TDN Rising Star' Muth (Good Magic) into the GI Kentucky Derby despite a ban by Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI) against the colt's trainer, Bob Baffert.

Technically, the Apr. 24 order by Judge Jeff Taylor didn't decide Zedan's appeal of a lower court's denial of a temporary injunction in full. But from a practical standpoint, it appears that time has all but run out on that appeal being decided before Saturday's entry time for the Derby.

After deciding that that case does not meet legal standards for “emergency” adjudication, Taylor wrote that the case will now be assigned to a three-judge panel “in accordance with this Court's customary procedures.” As of 1 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, no hearing date had been posted on the court's electronic docket. The “case status” section stated that the appeal is “ready to be assigned to motion panel.”

In his 12-page order, Taylor wrote of three key issues that factored into his decision not to give emergency relief: 1) That Baffert himself was not a party to the lawsuit and/or its appeal; 2) That a federal court had already established a precedent in 2023 by denying a Baffert-initiated request to end the CDI ban, and 3) That Zedan Racing Stables had plenty of time-some 10 months before the 2024 Derby-to decide if it wanted to switch trainers to make horses Derby-eligible.

“Any action taken by this Court to allow Zedan to participate in the Derby with Baffert as his trainer would eviscerate CDI's suspension of Baffert, without Baffert ever appearing before this Court,” Taylor wrote. “On its face, that would be totally unfair and unjust for CDI and the other owners who have complied with CDI rules for entry of horses into the Kentucky Derby.

“As it stands, Muth is ineligible for nomination to the 150th Kentucky Derby because his trainer, Baffert, is presently suspended by CDI. Since Baffert is not before this Court to contest his suspension and is otherwise an indispensable party to this action, we decline to grant it the requested extraordinary emergency relief,” Taylor wrote.

“To do otherwise would also affect Baffert' s rights, which are not 'separable from those of parties before the court.' The instant case may also be perceived as a collateral attack on the disciplinary action taken by CDI against Baffert, which has been litigated extensively in the courts,” Taylor wrote.

“[A] federal court in Kentucky upheld the validity of Baffert's suspension by CDI in a final judgment entered in May of 2023. That judgment was not appealed. Accordingly, 'a federal court judgment is entitled to full faith and credit in the state courts,'” Taylor wrote.

Taylor wrote that, “despite the effort at artful pleading by Zedan, the denial of Muth as a Kentucky Derby participant by CDI is inextricably intertwined with CDI's banning of the horse's trainer, Baffert, at its racing facilities. And to grant Zedan the relief requested would clearly undermine or evade the adjudication by the federal court in favor of CDI by a non-party to that action.”

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.

Taylor addressed Zedan's claim that his stable relied upon a 2021 public statement by CDI that  Baffert's suspension would be for two years only when Zedan subsequently spent approximately $14-million on seven auction purchases, allegedly thinking that Baffert would be allowed to train them in the 2024 Derby.

Taylor wrote that “Zedan was aware of the dilemma it faced with having Baffert as the trainer of its horses on July 3, 2023. Zedan's failure to take any legal action to address the issue until April of 2024 certainly mitigates against any irreparable injury alleged to have been suffered by Zedan. Any harm incurred by Zedan would have been self-inflicted by its own conduct.”

Zedan could opt to push the appeals process further by asking for a last-gasp appeal in the Kentucky State Supreme Court, but that option seems highly unlikely with the Apr. 27 entry time for the Derby looming within 48 hours.

A public relations firm that has been acting as a spokesperson for Zedan Racing Stable's legal efforts issued a press release on Thursday that stated, “We are disappointed with the single judge decision of the Court of Appeals, and saddened that our horse Muth, one of the fastest three-year-olds in the country, will be denied the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he earned to contend in the 150th Run for the Roses and, potentially, the Triple Crown.

“Filing this lawsuit was the last thing we wanted to do. That is why [Zedan] reached out to the Churchill Downs CEO this past December and January to attempt to resolve this issue amicably. Zedan Racing Stables was compelled by its substantive business interests to take legal action to secure Muth's rightful opportunity to run in the Kentucky Derby.

“We hope that Churchill Downs will follow up on [the lower court's] request that both sides work out an ongoing agreement in order for Bob Baffert to once again bring horses to Churchill Downs' tracks,” the stable's statement concluded.

Tonya Abeln, CDI's vice president of communications, emailed the following statement in response to a TDN query for comment on the judge's order:

“CDI is pleased with the Kentucky Court of Appeals' Order issued [Wednesday]. We remain focused on the horses and connections who qualified to compete in this year's Kentucky Derby, and we look forward to welcoming another champion into the history books as we celebrate the milestone 150th running of this extraordinary tradition.”

Zedan himself also commented via his PR firm:  “I had the pleasure of speaking with Alex Rankin, the Chairman of Churchill Downs, and I congratulated him on the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby and wish him and racing fans around the world a competitive, captivating, and safe race. I look forward to bringing Muth to the [GI] Preakness [S.].”

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