Zedan Appeals Muth's Derby Denial; Says Harm to Horses Who Might Get Excluded Is 'A Phantom'

Amr Zedan | Coady


One day after a lower court in Kentucky denied a motion to make Amr Zedan's 'TDN Rising Star' Muth eligible for the GI Kentucky Derby by overturning Churchill Downs Inc., (CDI)'s ban again trainer Bob Baffert, Zedan's incorporated racing stable on Friday asked the Kentucky Court of Appeals to “vacate the Jefferson Circuit Court's order and issue a temporary injunction” to let his Good Magic colt at least begin the entry process to race in the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Zedan's Apr. 19 motion proposed that “At a minimum, a partial injunction should issue enabling Muth to be stabled under Derby rules at Churchill Downs Racetrack by 11:00 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, April 27, 2024. 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.”

Zedan is not only racing against the clock with his legal efforts, but against preceding court decisions. In addition to Thursday's denial of his injunction request in a Kentucky state court, Baffert (who is not a party to Zedan's lawsuit) lost a case at the federal level in 2023 that similarly sought to overturn his ban by CDI.

CDI had barred Baffert from its properties shortly after the 2021 Derby, which the now-disqualified Zedan-owned and 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.

Zedan's Apr. 19 filing in the appeals court disagreed with the judge's opinion in the lower Kentucky court that articulated “deep concerns” about “innocent third parties who will have their horses removed from the Derby field to make room for the Plaintiff's horse should the Court grant injunctive relief.”

To the contrary, Zedan told the appeal court in his filing, “such harm is a phantom-there is no evidence that any competitor will suffer.”

Zedan's reasoning continued: “Absent the unlawful ban, Muth would be waltzing into the Derby as the winner of the [GI] Arkansas Derby and no one would think twice about that. That's how horse racing-indeed, any competition-properly works.

“The Jefferson Circuit Court noted that other competitors 'have done nothing wrong, have followed the rules, and worked hard only to be denied the opportunity to compete at the last moment,'” Zedan's filing pointed out. “But there was no showing or finding that any other horse would be ousted from the Derby if Muth is afforded his [qualifying] points, or that any other owner would be aggrieved.”

Churchill Downs in recent years has limited the Derby to a draw of 24 entrants, with 20 being allowed to start. Should the appeals court rule in favor of letting Muth into the Derby, it could theoretically exclude bottom-dwelling qualifiers who wouldn't make the top 24 cutoff. If the court's injunction un-banned Baffert, other owners who have Derby candidates trained by him might also suddenly want in on the Derby, possibly excluding even more current qualifiers.

Zedan's filing didn't see it that way, though.

“If anything should bother other owners, it is the fact that none of them will be able to claim their horse as the deserving winner of this year's Derby without having an asterisk next to its name and the lingering, unanswerable question, 'Would that Thoroughbred have outrun Muth'?” the filing stated.

Zedan's filing continued at a different point: “Without purporting to find any substantive justification for CDI's ban, the Jefferson Circuit Court denied Zedan's request for temporary injunctive relief. After rejecting several of CDI's defenses and determining that

a dispute over standing did not prevent it from resolving Zedan's request, the lower court questioned the irreparable harm threatening Zedan. In particular, the court suggested that Zedan could have avoided its injuries by transferring its horses to a different trainer back in January-months before this year's Derby.”

Zedan then argued in his filing that transferring Muth to a different trainer wasn't an option he wanted to pursue in 2024, even though he had done it in previous Derbies when Baffert's ban by CDI was in effect.

“Zedan and like-situated owners experienced disappointing results after switching trainers prior to the 2022 Derby and the 2023 Derby, where their horses' performances materially declined,” Zedan's filing stated. “After returning to Baffert, most of these horses returned to form.”

Zedan's filing then made this leap of logic: “The undisputed evidence is that switching trainers hurts horses and diminishes performance, and that no one can substitute for Baffert in readying horses for the Derby. By all indications, switching to a different trainer would have left Muth handicapped and ultimately ineligible for the Derby.”

At another point in the Friday filing, Zedan made the analogy that his stable “has as much standing as the New York Giants would have if they were, say, barred from the Super Bowl because the host stadium harbors a vendetta against the State of New York.”

Zedan lashed out at CDI by stating that the gaming corporation was “excluding a horse based on a trainer's public 'narrative' rather than actual qualifications, compliance, and merit. CDI is betraying its principles, upending fairness, skewing the Derby, and casting a cloud over the ultimate 'winner,' which would now be a mere artifact of CDI's petty caprice…

“No one should want to see the Derby unfold this way,” Zedan summed up. “To the contrary, the public interest is served by letting the public watch and cheer the very best horses at the Derby-as opposed to having CDI arbitrarily exclude a potential winning horse.”

A request for comment emailed to CDI late Friday afternoon did not yield a reply in time for deadline for this story.

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