Country House win in 2019 Derby upheld by appeals court

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FILE – In this May 4, 2019, file photo, Luis Saez rides Maximum Security, right, across the finish line first against Flavien Prat on Country House during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Citing unidentified sources close to the race, the Courier-Journal of Louisville said Churchill Downs will postpone the Derby from May 2, 2020, to Sept. 5, making it the first time in 75 years that the race won’t be run on the first Saturday in May. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the decision by Churchill Downs stewards that made Country House the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

This year’s Derby is Sept. 5 after being rescheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati on Friday affirmed a U.S. District Court decision to dismiss a lawsuit by Gary and Mary West, who own Maximum Security. Their horse crossed the finish line first in last year’s Derby but was disqualified for interference. Runner-up Country House was declared the winner.

“I am obviously disappointed in the court’s decision, but it is time to move on and there will be no further appeals,” Gary West said in a text message to The Associated Press.

The Wests sued the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, its executive director, members and stewards after the race in May 2019. That November, federal Judge Karen Caldwell dismissed their suit seeking to challenge the decision to disqualify their horse.

The Wests sought to reverse the track stewards’ decision, contending it violated their rights to due process. They also wanted the $3 million Derby purse redistributed.

Caldwell said Kentucky rules state that the stewards’ decision in determining fouls and disqualifications of horses is “final and not subject to appeal.” The stewards found after a race review that Maximum Security had drifted out and interfered with other horses’ progress.

Maximum Security won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 22. The Wests switched the colt to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert after Jason Servis, who previously trained Maximum Security, was indicted in March on federal charges of doping horses.

Country House never raced again after the Derby. He was retired in March because of laminitis, a hoof inflammation that can cause severe pain and lameness.

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