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Court Says It Will Rule on Zedan-CDI Case This Week

Churchill says eleventh-hour change of Derby field would be unjust.

Zedan Racing hopes to run Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Muth in the Kentucky Derby (G1)

Zedan Racing hopes to run Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Muth in the Kentucky Derby (G1)

Benoit Photo

Declaring the case well-briefed and that he understands the arguments, a Louisville, Ky., judge told attorneys he will issue a ruling this week on owner Amr Zedan's courtroom bid to force Churchill Downs Inc. to allow Arkansas Derby (G1) winner and Bob Baffert trainee Muth to participate in the 150th Kentucky Derby (G1).

On April 15 Zedan's legal team summed up its case to Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry by leading off with its primary argument: that Zedan bought yearlings and 2-year-olds for Baffert to train in reliance on a 2021 statement by Churchill Downs Inc. that a two-year suspension of Baffert competing at its tracks would end if he had no further issues with disqualifications; that over 600 starts later Baffert had no further issues; and that CDI extended the suspension anyway, thereby preventing Zedan from entering Muth in the 2024 Kentucky Derby.

With the Derby only 19 days away, Perry noted, "The court has been put in a time crunch."

He was told by attorney John Quinn that Zedan didn't bring the matter into court when the extension of Baffert's suspension was announced because at that time it wasn't known if he had a horse that was good enough, and that CDI was put on notice the day after Muth qualified with sufficient Derby points by winning the Arkansas Derby.

CDI argued it has a right to manage its own track, but Zedan's legal team countered, "That ignores the reality...these words have consequences. Third parties changed things they were doing."

Churchill Downs Inc. said Zedan's case is flawed both procedurally and substantively.

The matter "can and should have been addressed long ago," attorney Thomas Dupree said. "Mr. Zedan's complaint is replete with references that his business plan is to buy horses for Mr. Baffert to train" and that Zedan's personal assertion of rights that belong to Baffert at the 11th hour is "unprecedented."

Perry pressed the issue of why Churchill extended the ban.

"The fact that he said if he had it to do all over again, he would do the same thing," Churchill's counsel said. "We have a duty to see to it that the race is carried out with integrity. We didn't think he could be trusted."

Perry was also told by CDI counsel, "This isn't the first time Mr. Zedan has had to make this decision. In prior Derbies he changed trainers. We set an off-ramp to the suspended trainer rule, and he availed himself of that road the last few years (by changing trainers)."

With all Derby points races finalized two days earlier, there is a set field subject to defections. A question arose whether horses other than Muth would be allowed into the Derby if Zedan received a favorable ruling. For example, Zedan does not own Baffert trainee Imagination, the runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) who would have ample Derby points if not for Baffert's ban.

Churchill's team argued that a resetting of the Derby field by the court at the last minute would cause unjust consequences in violation of equitable principles of law that the court is bound to follow in injunction cases.

Perry opened the hearing by noting an element of the case needing further development before he can rule. Zedan has challenged the constitutionality of the statute underlying CDI's motion to dismiss his claim, and Kentucky law requires notice of such a challenge be given to the state attorney general. Perry ordered notice be given today and set a short hearing for April 17 to clear that hurdle.