Zedan Vows Appeal after Judge Denies Derby Injunction

Amr Zedan | Coady

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Amr Zedan's incorporated racing stable is planning an immediate appeal to a Thursday decision by a Kentucky judge who denied an injunction request that would have overturned Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI)'s ongoing ban against Bob Baffert. Zedan had initiated an Apr. 3 lawsuit in an effort to get his Baffert-trained 'TDN Rising Star' Muth (Good Magic) eligible for the GI Kentucky Derby.

But Judge Mitchell Perry of Jefferson Circuit Court also denied CDI's request to dismiss the case in his Apr. 18 order.

This means that barring a successful appeal with eight days now remaining until entry time for the Derby, the underlying lawsuit could linger for months after the Derby itself has been run if Zedan decides to pursue it that far.

“The Plaintiff makes a compelling argument that failure to grant this injunction will result in its horse being barred from running in the Kentucky Derby,” Perry wrote in his order. “This is an event that a horse is only eligible for once in its lifetime.

“However, the Defendants are correct that the Plaintiff has transferred its horses to a different trainer and those horses have been eligible to run in the Derby the previous two years,” Perry continued.

“For the 2024 racing season, the Plaintiff voluntarily made the decision to not transfer its horses to a new trainer,” Perry wrote. “The Plaintiff knew as early as July 2023 that Mr. Baffert was a suspended trainer and that to be eligible to run in the 2024 Kentucky Derby, horses had to be transferred to a non-suspended trainer by January 29, 2024. Nonetheless, the Plaintiff nominated its horses with Mr. Baffert as their trainer.

“The Court appreciates the once in-a-horse's-lifetime nature of the Kentucky Derby, but the other aspects at play prevent this factor from weighing fully in favor of the Plaintiff and injunctive relief,” Perry wrote.

A spokesperson for Zedan and his legal team emailed the following statement to TDN, which read, in part:

“We are disappointed in the court's decision on our request for temporary relief, as we believe the court did not recognize the significant investment Zedan Racing has made, based on statements by Churchill Downs that if this trainer had no additional violations, Zedan Racing's horses would be able to compete. We will appeal this ruling on an emergency basis as soon as possible. The goal of our effort remains to ensure our horse Muth will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in the 150th Run for the Roses on May 4.

“The court's rejection of the defendant's motion to dismiss affirms our view that [CDI's motion to dismiss] was nothing more than a transparent delay tactic aimed at ensuring its unjust ban remained in place for the 150th Kentucky Derby,” Zedan's statement continued.

Tonya Abeln, CDI's vice president of communications, emailed a statement in response to a TDN query for comment that underscored the gaming corporation's appreciation for the ruling–but also couldn't resist a glib portrayal of Zedan's legal efforts.

“We are pleased with the Court's decision today and believe Mr. Zedan may suffer from a case of 'Derby Fever,' which is known to spread with exposure to horses and is contagious this time of year,” CDI stated.

“Symptoms can contribute to questionable judgement and in extreme cases can result in litigious behavior,” the CDI statement continued. “There is no known cure. Nevertheless, we have communicated clearly about the rules of entry, which are the same for everyone and are non-negotiable. Contenders cannot sue their way into the Kentucky Derby. We wish Mr. Zedan well in the future and appreciate both his passion for the sport and his desire to see his horses compete on the First Saturday in May.”

CDI had banished 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.

The ban was initially just supposed to last for two Derbies. But in July 2023 CDI extended the penalty through 2024.

Zedan had claimed in his civil suit that he spent millions in buying horses at auction prior to the extension of the ban because he understood that Baffert would be allowed to train those horses for the 150th Derby in 2024.

On the issue of requirements for constitutional standing, Perry wrote, “The Plaintiff arguably meets the requirements for constitutional standing. It has suffered a business injury with its horses being barred from competing in the upcoming Kentucky Derby. This harm was caused by Churchill Downs's ban on the Plaintiff's trainer, Bob Baffert. And finally, if this Court were to rule in the Plaintiff's favor the harm would be cured, satisfying redressability.”

But, Perry added, “The Court has more serious doubts concerning the Plaintiff's third-party standing to essentially challenge Churchill Down's ban on behalf of Mr. Baffert.”

On Zedan's claim of “irreparable harm,” Perry wrote, “This factor is neutral at best. The Plaintiff makes a compelling argument that failure to grant this injunction will result in its horse being barred from running in the Kentucky Derby. This is an event that a horse is only eligible for once in its lifetime. However, the Defendants are correct that the Plaintiff has transferred its horses to a different trainer and those horses have been eligible to run in the Derby the previous two years.”

Regarding the balance of equities, Perry wrote that this factor “requires courts to consider the public interest, harm to the defendant, and preservation of the status quo. This factor weighs strongly against granting injunctive relief.

“The Defendant here will be severely prejudiced by the granting of injunctive relief. Churchill Downs, as the host of one of the most preeminent sporting events in the world, has a duty to ensure that the rules and regulations put in place to guarantee an even playing field are upheld and followed.

“Public trust and confidence in the integrity of the races run at Churchill Downs are essential to its business. It is also in the public interest to ensure that all those who attend or watch races at Churchill Downs can be confident in the fairness and integrity of the sport.

“The Court is also deeply concerned about the 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. These are entities who have done nothing wrong, have followed the rules, and worked hard only to be denied the opportunity to compete at the last moment,” Perry wrote.

“The Court further notes the concerns raised in the amicus brief of other horse owners who have retained Bob Baffert,” Perry wrote. “If the Court were to rule in favor of the Plaintiff, the door would potentially be opened to an uncertain number of Baffert-trained horses dislodging multiple horses from the Derby field. The Court declines to open that door here.”

Baffert was not a party in Zedan's lawsuit. He had already been denied a Derby-eligibility injunction at the federal court level in 2023.

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