145th Kentucky Derby – Winner Disqualified
On May 4th, the stewards of Churchill Downs determined that Maximum Security dangerously impeded the path of horses on the track – and Country House was declared the winner. It is the first time in the Derby’s 145-year history a horse was disqualified for action during the competition.
The only other time a winning horse was ever disqualified from the Kentucky Derby was over fifty years ago.
It was 1968 – Dancer’s Image won the Kentucky Derby with all the honor and celebration of a champion thoroughbred.
The Run for the Roses featured a showdown between two outstanding colts – Forward Pass owned by Calumet Farm, known for Kentucky Derby glory with several champion winners .. and Dancer’s Image.
Days leading up to the big race – rumors were mounting that Dancer’s Image wasn’t sound – that he could barely stand. The owner, Peter Fuller called his vet in to treat Dancer’s Image – a decision that would have far reaching implications.
Just hours after Dancer’s Image had crossed the finish line – Churchill Downs stewards got a call from the testing lab – to inform them that one of the winning horses had tested positive for a drug prohibited by the racing commission. None other than Derby winner – Dancer’s Image.
The following day a statement was issued regarding the drug test. The stewards then demanded redistribution of the purse for the Kentucky Derby.
In a public announcement, Churchill Downs stated for the first time in the history of the world’s most famous horse race – there would be a disqualification.
According to racings “absolute insurer” rule, the trainer of record is responsible for the condition of a race horse entering the track. As a result, the trainer for Dancer’s Image ended up suspended.
Peter Fuller, the owner – celebrating victory in the Winners Circle just hours before – immediately announced his intention to seek a hearing before Kentucky’s Racing Commission in an attempt to appeal the decision of disqualifying his beloved thoroughbred.
That Fuller chose to fight wasn’t a surprise to anyone who knew him. He quickly assembled a first rate legal team – Louisville trial attorney, Arthur W. Grafton, a descendant of Zachary Taylor – and 38-year-old Edward Bonnie, a brilliant lawyer from Yale – and expert horseman who knew the racing world inside and out. Ned Bonnie had developed a reputation among horse trainers for winning drug cases by challenging the science behind the testing.
Hired as opposing counsel was another brilliant young attorney – George Francis Rabe. Having the notorious presence of a drill sergeant — and a law degree from Georgetown, Rabe was experienced in writing appellate court briefs for criminal cases – and highly skilled to defend the rules and integrity of horse racing.
That decision came down on Dec. 23, as the Kentucky Racing Commission voted unanimously to uphold the stewards’ decision to disqualify Dancer’s Image. In a statement from the commission – the rules had to be enforced in order to preserve the honesty and integrity of horse racing. Peter Fuller known as a fierce fighter among friends – was now openly called a “sore loser.”
After this devastating decision – Fuller proceeded to file an appeal with the Franklin circuit court of appeals. The case was turned over to Judge Henry Meigs II – a highly decorated World War II fighter pilot.
Being unpredictable at best – December 11, 1970, Judge Meigs shocked the racing world when he reversed the racing commissions’ decision – and ordered the reinstatement of the 1968 Kentucky Derby’s winner – Dancer’s Image.
Peter Fuller had won the Kentucky Derby — once again! Unfortunately, the victory proved to be as short lived as the first.
On April 28, 1972, Kentucky’s then-highest court, the Court of Appeals, unanimously reversed Judge Meigs’ decision and reinstated the disqualification of Dancer’s Image. The high court held that there was substantial evidence supporting the Kentucky State Racing Commissions ruling.
Four years after the race, Calumet Farm got its’ eighth Kentucky Derby win with Forward Pass – and the prize money including interest.
The decision for the 1968 Kentucky Derby became an historic event – and a clear message to the horse racing world – the rules are in place to ensure the integrity of the sport.
Bob Heleringer, Esq. – Author of Equine Regulatory Law.
In the recent events surrounding the Kentucky Derby – and Churchill Downs disqualification of Maximum Security for interference after his win in the 145th Run for the Roses – Bill Mott, trainer of Country House made this statement, “I feel terrible that I have to apologize for winning …”
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission recently denied the owners request to appeal the decision. They replied Monday stating that the stewards “unanimously disqualified Maximum Security” so it was not subject for appeal.
Bob Baffert weighed in on the controversy .. “No one calls an objection in the Derby .. it’s a roughly run race. Twenty-horse field. I have been wiped out numerous times, but that is the Derby. I can see by the book why they did it. Sometimes you’ve got to take your butt-kickings with dignity ..” Baffert added .. one thing that has gotten lost in all of this is that Maximum Security is the real deal. He’s the best three-year-old in the country. A losing horse – the owners and jockey should take their loss “with dignity.”
Sadly, neither horse – Maximum Security or Country House – will run in the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown – held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.
Despite all the controversy – West said he plans to file a lawsuit in response to the Kentucky Race Horse Commissions’ denial for an appeal.