Maximum Security’s owners cannot challenge the Kentucky racing officials’ disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, according to a recent federal court decision. West v. Kentucky Horse Racing Comm., No. 5:19-211, 2019 WL 6053014 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 15, 2019). As you may remember, Maximum Security finished first in the Kentucky Derby earlier this year, but his first-place finish was unanimously disqualified by the racing stewards after it was determined that the horse interfered with the travel of two other horses during the race. The first-place disqualification was the first in Kentucky Derby history and captivated the American audience and social media for several weeks after the race.
Within days after the race, Maximum Security’s owners, Gary and Mary West, filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn that disqualification and reinstate his first-place finish.
The Wests requested that the Court review the disqualification pursuant to a state statute that governs judicial review of final orders by administrative agencies. See West Compl. 17-29, May 14, 2019, Dkt. No. 1; KRS § 13B.150. This statute provides that the court may overturn an agency decision if it violates the constitution or a statute, exceeds the agency’s authority, is without support of substantial evidence on the whole record, is arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion, or if it is otherwise deficient (the “judicial review claims”). Id. The Wests also asserted claims alleging various violations of their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution (the “due process claims”) which will be discussed in an upcoming blog. West at *3.
In dismissing the lawsuit last week, the Court held that (1) Kentucky’s regulations make clear that the disqualification is not subject to judicial review, and (2) the disqualification procedure does not implicate a constitutional due process interest. Id. at *1.
As an agency of the state, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is authorized “to prescribe necessary and reasonable administrative regulations and conditions under which horse racing at a horse race meeting shall be conducted in this state.” KRS §230.260(8). Racing stewards are charged with the “immediate supervision, control, and regulation of racing at each licensed race meeting on behalf of and responsible only to the commission.” 810 KAR 1:004 § 3.
In determining whether a foul has occurred in a disputed race, “[a] leading horse if clear is entitled to any part of the track. If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul. If a jockey strikes another horse or jockey, it is a foul. If in the opinion of the stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.” 810 KAR 1:016 § 12.
The Court dismissed the judicial review claims on the grounds that the state regulations explicitly provide that the stewards’ decision is final and not subject to appeal. West at *6-7. Section 4 of 810 KAR 1:017 (“Section 4”) requires stewards to:
- Make all findings of fact as to all matters occurring during and incident to the running of a horse race;
- Determine all objections and inquiries based on interference by a horse, improper course run by a horse, foul riding by a jockey, and all other matters occurring during and incident to the running of a race; and
- Determine the extent of disqualification, if any, of horses in a race for a foul committed during the race.
810 KAR 1:017 § 4(1)(a)-(c). These findings and determinations are “final and shall not be subject to appeal.” Id. § 4(2). Prior state case law had determined that this regulation is dispositive on the issue of appeal. See March v. Kentucky Horse Racing Comm., No. 2013-CA-000900-MR, 2015 WL 3429763, 2 (Ky. Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2016) (determining that Section 4 provides that the stewards’ decision to disqualify a horse is “final and non-appealable”). Further, Chapter 13B.150 states that only “final orders” of an agency are subject to judicial review. West at *7. A “final order” must be a final disposition of an administrative hearing. KRS § 13B.010(6). The stewards’ decision was not the product of an administrative hearing. West at *7. Thus, because the Wests have no right to judicial review of the disqualification, the court dismissed the judicial review claims. Id.
In a statement to the media last week, Gary West expressed his intent to file an appeal of the dismissal. He feels the decision puts stewards above the law. West stated “[t]he transparency and reviewability of decisions by stewards is essential to the integrity of racing in America and is critical to the public’s confidence in the sport. Sadly, the Court’s Opinion allows secret deliberations by Kentucky’s stewards that affect millions of people and billions of dollars to forever go unreviewable by any court; indeed, by anyone, no matter how negligent, reckless or nefarious such secretly made decisions may be.”
Part 2 of this blog post will cover the court’s dismissal of the Wests’ due process claims.
The district court decision can be found here.
The West Complaint can be found here.
Gary West’s Statement can be found here.
Our Animal Law practice group has experience in representing parties in horse racing commission disputes and can assist in navigating the laws implicated by such disputes.
 Amendments to Kentucky’s horse racing regulations went into effect on May 31, 2019, after the Kentucky Derby. The Court cited to the regulations in effect at the time of the race and this blog post does the same.