By Bill Finley
The Churchill Downs Board of Stewards has suspended jockey Luis Saez 15 days for his ride aboard Maximum Security (New Year’s Day) in the GI Kentucky Derby. In one of the more controversial Derbies in history, Maximum Security appeared to come out several paths nearing the top of the stretch, impeding War of Will (War Front). That began a chain reaction in which War of Will banged into Long Range Toddy (Take Charge Indy). Maximum Security was placed 17th.
Saez’s suspension will be in effect on the following dates: May 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30 and June 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14. The days not included in the ruling are days Churchill is dark.
In their ruling, the stewards said the suspension was “for failure to control his mount and make the proper effort to maintain a straight course thereby causing interference with several rivals that resulted in the disqualification of his mount.”
Attorney Sean Haskins, who is handling the case along with lead counsel Ann Oldfather, said Saez will appeal the ruling to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and will do so within the next few days.
“The stewards’ ruling is completely unsupported by the facts and the suspension is unsupportable,” Haskins said. “We will be appealing the ruling with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and we look forward to the opportunity to present proof that shows that Luis Saez had a flawless ride at the Kentucky Derby and that he should not be sanctioned or disciplined at all. The suspension is completely unwarranted. The lead counsel for Luis Saez, Ann Oldfather, attended the film viewing with the stewards last Friday and all the jockeys that were present confirmed that Luis was not at fault and he did everything he could do to control the horse. So the stewards should not have given him any sort of discipline. We were disappointed when we received the stewards’ decision because it is completely unsupported by the facts. Why the stewards rendered this decision is something that we do not know the basis of.”
At the hearing with the stewards, Oldfather presented video the that she said shows that Tyler Gaffalione, who rode War of Will, was in fact the jockey that started the chain reaction that led to the roughly run race.
She told the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Tyler Gaffalione, started all this. And (Saez) is lucky the horse didn’t bolt off the track…it’s laughable when you see the actual video.”
The owners of Maximum Security, Gary and Mary West, filed an appeal with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) asking it to overturn the stewards’ decision to disqualify their horse. Because Kentucky racing rules state the decision of the stewards is final, the KHRC immediately threw out the appeal.
The Wests have said they will now take their case to the courts.
Kentucky racing regulations require a jockey to be heard when he or she files an appeal of a suspension. However, it is extremely rare that a commission overturns a ruling of the stewards. If the KHRC does not overturn the suspension, Haskins said they, too, will take the case to the courts in an effort to have Saez exonerated. With all the legal maneuvers that will likely take place before there is a final verdict on Saez’s situation, it is unlikely that his suspension will start any time in the near future.