By Bill Finley
When Gary West issued a challenge to the owners of four horses that ran in this year's GI Kentucky Derby, offering each one a $5-million side bet any time any one of the quartet faced off against his Maximum Security (New Year's Day), it seemed like maybe the statement was made in the heat of the moment.
“I firmly believe I have the best 3-year-old in the country and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is,” he said at the time.
But that doesn't seem to be the case as some four months later, West told the TDN his offer stands and invited Gary Barber, who owns War of Will (War Front), to accept his bet when the two horses meet in the Sept. 21 GI Pennsylvania Derby at Parx.
One problem: Barber isn't the least bit interested.
“I'm not going to engage,” he told the TDN in an email.
Maximum Security became the first horse to ever cross the wire first in the Kentucy Derby only to be disqualified, in this case for alleged interference. The stewards' ruling did not sit well with West, who has since sued to have his horse restored as the official winner of the Derby. Not that Maximum Security necessarily had anything to prove, but West also seemed intent on showing the world he had the best 3-year-old colt in the U.S. and cooked up the challenge concept as a means of proving it.
He said he would make a $5-million side bet with the owners of Country House (Lookin At Lucky), Long Range Toddy (Take Charge Indy), Bodexpress (Bodemeister) and War of Will in any race where any of those horses met up against Maximum Security. Neither horse had to win. They just had to finish in front of the other. Country House was placed first in the race, though he was not bothered. The stewards declared that when Maximum Security came out near the head of the stretch he caused a chain reaction that led to Long Range Toddy, War of Will and Bodexpress all being interfered with.
None of the “challenge” horses have faced Maximum Security since the Kentucky Derby, but both he and War of Will, the subsequent GI Preakness winner, are pointing for the Pennsylvania Derby.
“Of course my, offer, head-to-head, no matter where the horses finish, stands for a maximum of $5,000,000,” West said in an email. “Or it could be for anything less they would like to propose that would make the race more interesting for the media and the fans.”
West said that if his offer is ever accepted he would donate his winnings to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
“There is nothing in this for me other than promoting the race and racing as 100% of the winnings from Maximum Security's match race would go to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund,” he wrote. “As you probably recall, I am giving 10% of all Maximum's Securities lifetime racing earnings to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund; they have already received $63,000 from Maximum Security's last two races.”
Apparently not looking to be baited into making a bet, Barber also wrote in his email to the TDN: “He should just give the $5 million to the PDJF now.”
West wanted to make it clear he had no ill feelings for Barber or trainer Mark Casse.
“This would be good for racing and, as an FYI, I like and respect the owner and trainer of War of Will, so I don't want this to be confrontational in any way. That is not the intention,” he wrote.
With Country House out for the year and with Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress not considered horses who are among the best of the division, the only $5-million challenge that makes any sense would be War of Will versus Maximum Security.
Both owners want to prove they have the best horse and will have the chance to do so in the Pennsylvania Derby. The purse is $1 million, big money. But so far as an extra $5 million being on the line, West continues to find no takers.