Maximum Security owner crying foul over Kentucky Derby ruling

Gary West is taking his colt and going home, stomping his feet every pouty step of the way out of Louisville.

The owner of disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security did himself and the sport of horse racing no favors in his Monday morning appearance on the Today Show. His horse committed a foul that cost him the biggest race of the year, and that’s a hard thing to swallow — but that was Saturday and this is Monday. It’s swallowing time. Instead, West ripped the racing stewards who made the call, tried to deflect blame to Churchill Downs for the size of the Derby field and says he will be filing an appeal of the disqualification, though it doesn’t appear an appeal is actually allowed.

Most damaging of all, West announced that his star colt will not run in the Preakness on May 18.

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There goes the chance for Maximum Security and Country House to spark a rivalry and settle it on the racetrack. There goes a legitimately compelling racing storyline. There go a lot of casual fans, back to watching other sports.

If West and trainer Jason Servis believe they have the best 3-year-old in America and should be the Derby winner, the way to prove it is by coming back in the Preakness and beating Country House, the horse that was elevated to first after Maximum Security was taken off the board. The best revenge would be winning big, not walking away and waiting for the Belmont in June.

And thus, at a time when people are actually talking about horse racing, the Maximum Security connections are killing the buzz by opting not to compete in the next major race. The horse’s Derby swerve is a metaphor for the sport, which so often cannot get out of its own way.

This is the latest in a decades-long series of blows to the Preakness, which has always been the cubic zirconia jewel in racing’s Triple Crown. The Derby is the highlight and the Belmont is the climax, while the Preakness is stuck in the middle and stuck at the crumbling dump that is Pimlico Race Course.

Gary West, owner of Maximum Security. (Today Show)
Gary West, owner of Maximum Security. (Today Show)

Things are so bad at Pimlico right now that the Maryland Jockey Club announced last month that it is closing the northern portion of the grandstand for the Preakness, a loss of 6,670 seats. The release citing the closure says the decision was made after a “Maryland Stadium Authority study that concluded that after more than 100 years, Pimlico Race Course had ‘reached the end of its useful life.’ “

One could persuasively argue that Pimlico actually has been a living corpse of a stadium for 25 years, but there are some political tactics at play here as well. The Stronach Group, which owns the Maryland Jockey Club, has chosen to let the facility rot while angling to move the Preakness to Laurel Park, a smaller but more modern track about midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Regardless of motive, we have a diminished Preakness at a partially condemned track. Go, baby, go.

The decision to skip the race is rooted in the fact that neither West nor Servis is fond of racing a horse twice in two weeks. Nobody is anymore. Among those who have Derby horses, very few actually want to run in the Preakness.

The notable trainer exceptions are Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, who not coincidentally have won the most Triple Crown races of any trainers in history — Baffert has 15 and Lukas 14. Most others in their profession shun the Preakness if they’ve run in the Derby.

In a normal year, that would include Bill Mott, the trainer of Country House. He all but admitted Sunday that he will only be going to Baltimore out of Triple Crown duty.

“You get shamed into it,” Mott said. “If you don’t, it’s ‘You got no balls,’ and ‘What’s wrong with the horse?’ Having the Derby winner, you’re pretty much forced to go on to the Preakness.”

For years, there have been suggestions to spread out the Triple Crown races — move the Preakness to Memorial Day weekend and the Belmont to Fourth of July. Racing has resisted that, and the recent Triple Crown triumphs of American Pharoah and Justify has strengthened the resistance. But an unwillingness to run horses in all three legs drains interest from the sport.

The wait-for-the-Belmont crowd certainly shouldn’t include Maximum Security’s connections. They should be trying to win both the Preakness and Belmont, and if they capture both and feel aggrieved they can name themselves Triple Crown champions the same way Central Florida declared itself college football national champions in 2017.

That actually sounds like something West would consider, given his Today Show statements.

"We were stunned, shocked and in total disbelief," West said on the Today Show. "The appeal has to be filed within 48 hours so we’ll be filing that today."

(UPDATE: Gary and Mary West officially filed an appeal on Monday)

But according to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regulations, the stewards findings “shall be final and not subject to appeal.”

He’s certainly unwilling to accept the stewards’ unanimous ruling, to the point that he tried to turn the discussion from Maximum Security’s clear impeding of two horses into a referendum on the Derby field size.

West was right when he referred to Churchill Downs Inc. as “greedy.” Entry money and gambling money are the reasons why Churchill has allowed the Derby field to bloat from 14 to 20 horses, annually the biggest field in an American race. That does create traffic issues and potentially hazardous situations.

But Maximum Security had no traffic issues he didn’t create himself. The horse was on the lead, in the clear, not weaving through a pack. His impeding of War of Will and Long Range Toddy could just as easily have happened in a five-horse field as a 20-horse field.

But Gary West wasn’t there for a logical discussion Monday morning. He was there to point his finger at the Churchill Downs racing stewards, then take his colt and go home — leaving horse racing in the lurch in the process.

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