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Derby Time! The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports… and Courts?

It’s Derby time again in the Bluegrass, when tulips come into bloom, we pretend mint juleps taste good, and, of course, we prepare for whatever new legal issue may come up after the first Saturday in May. Below is a list of some of the greatest hits in the legal history of the Kentucky Derby:

  • 2019: Maximum Security crosses the finish line first, seemingly winning the race. The owners of Country House, who finishes second, object to the results because Maximum Security shifted position during the race, impeding the path of other horses. The Racing Stewards agree and disqualify Maximum Security to last place. Maximum Security’s owners file an appeal with the Racing Commission and, after the appeal fails, file a lawsuit in federal court. The lawsuit goes all the way up to the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, which ultimately rules that the case should be dismissed, upholding the Racing Stewards’ authority to disqualify Maximum Security.   
  • 2012: ABC and NBC sports broadcaster Dave Johnson trademarks his famous phrase “and down the stretch they come” following his retirement in 2012.  Johnson never files suit to enforce his ownership of the phrase.  However, he does use the trademark protection to sell T-shirts with the phrase and raise money for disabled jockeys. 
  • 2010-2014: A “ticketgate” scandal erupts in 2010 when a ticket broker is accused of not honoring ticket purchases to numerous customers who bought Derby tickets online through a company called “Derby Deals.” The company, in turn, blames a UofL assistant basketball coach for failure to procure the tickets for Derby Deals. Derby Deals finds itself in the news again in 2014 when the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office launch an investigation into additional incidents of ticket sales that are not honored.
  • 2009: Derby favorite “I Want Revenge” is scratched mere hours before the race due to an injured and swollen ankle. Several months later, the horse’s co-owners file a lawsuit against the managing co-owner, alleging overmedication of the horse’s ankle that, overtime, led to a decline in the horse’s health.
  • 1984: The second disqualification in Kentucky Derby history takes place in 1984 when fourth-place finisher Gate Dancer is disqualified by the stewards for interference in the stretch with fellow racehorse Fali Time. The Racing Stewards move Gate Dancer to fifth place behind Fali Time, who is promoted to fourth place.
  • 1968: Dancer’s Image, winner of the 94th Kentucky Derby, is disqualified after the race when traces of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory, are found in a post-race drug test. This is the first time in Derby history a horse is disqualified for a drug test, up until Medina Spirit in 2022. After the disqualification, Peter Fuller, the owner of Dancer’s Image, files a lawsuit challenging the test results and the poor standards that existed then, including a failure to have split samples for a control test and the lack of a threshold level of drugs necessary for disqualifition. Fuller spends over $250,000 in legal fees, but he is unsuccessful and the truth about how Dancer’s Image’s test came back positive is still unknown.
  • 1933: The 59th Kentucky Derby results in the “fighting finish” (picture above) between Broker’s Tip jockey Don Meade and Head Play’s jockey Herb Fisher. Broker’s Tip finishes just half-a-nose ahead of Head Play. Frustrated after the loss, Fisher whips Meade with his riding crop after the race and the two engage in a fistfight in the jockey room. Fisher lodges an interference complaint with the stewards who choose not to act, solidifying Broker’s Tip’s win.

Here at the Poppe Law Firm, we hope everyone has a pleasant Derby and a winning ticket (even if that is mathematically impossible!). We especially hope this year’s Derby is free from the colorful scandals of Derby’s past and the only things colorful this year are the hats, fascinators, suits, and dresses. Happy Derby, y’all!

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