Former Kentucky chief racing steward John Veitch finally got his day in court Aug. 1 when Franklin, Ky., Circuit Court judge Thomas Wingate heard arguments on both sides of the controversial Life At Ten case.
In the next 90 days, Wingate will make a decision as to whether the one-year suspension given to Veitch by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission should be reversed.
Veitch, who was fired from his position Nov. 28, 2011 without cause, was suspended 365 days in February after the KHRC voted to uphold hearing officer Robert Layton's finding that the steward had violated four racing regulations in his handling of the Life At Ten matter. Wingate issued a stay of the suspension April 11, meaning Veitch could seek a license to resume his career in racing.
Life At Ten, owned by Candy DeBartolo and trained by Todd Pletcher, finished last in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs as the second choice at odds of 7-2. With jockey John Velazquez aboard, Life At Ten had no run when the field left the gate, and she was not persevered with throughout the race.
Before the race, Velazquez told retired jockey and ESPN analyst Jerry Bailey the filly was not warming up as she normally did, but the jockey did not relay those concerns to the stewards or any KHRC veterinarians. The day after the Ladies' Classic, trainer Todd Pletcher said it appeared that Life At Ten had an allergic reaction to Salix, a medication she was treated with prior to the race.
During the Aug. 1 hearing, Veitch's lawyer Tom Miller argued the regulations of which Veitch was supposedly in violation should not be used against him because they are too vague.
"In the hearing officer's brief, there's not one quote by the KHRC that specifically defines how Veitch and the other stewards should do their job according to regulations," Miller said. "Several other horses also didn't perform up to par that day, but they weren't drug tested or questioned."
Churchill's three stewards−Brooks Becraft, Rick Leigh, and Veitch−learned about Velazquez's statement secondhand and briefly discussed whether or not a veterinarian should evaluate Life At Ten prior to the race. When Becraft suggested a veterinarian should be notified, Veitch allegedly responded that if they did take that action, they might as well scratch the filly.
Veitch never told the other stewards not to notify a veterinarian, however; the matter was simply dropped when the horses were being loaded in the gate.
Miller contended there is no specific standard for how a steward should act in such a situation; therefore, Veitch was essentially being punished for not using common sense. He said it was also unfair Veitch was being penalized over the other stewards because there is no regulation that states Veitch has the ultimate authority in the situation.
"All three stewards decided not to examine the horse," Miller said.
Miller also said the case exhibited a "selective enforcement" on Veitch, who was suspended for a year and fired from his KHRA position, while Velazquez, who had the original complaint about Life At Ten, had to pay a $10,000 fine.
"That's unconstitutional," Miller said.
Luke Morgan, who along with Chapman Hopkins of the firm McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland was retained by the KHRC for the case, brought up the fact Amy Zimmerman of HRTV had called Veitch to report Velazquez' assessment of Life At Ten prior to the race. Veitch allegedly told Zimmerman he and the other stewards were "watching the situation," but then proceeded not to do anything about it.
Morgan also said that in a previous testimony, Becraft stated he wished they would have had a veterinarian examine Life At Ten, but was under the impression Veitch had the ultimate authority in the situation because he was chief state steward.
"Veitch was given the information about (Life At Ten), but he not only sat on the situation; he stopped another steward from alerting the veterinarians," Morgan said. "So much is involved in the integrity of horse racing. When something seems wrong, you investigate it. Stewards are judges; they are required to use their discretion."
Morgan also contended that Veitch had plenty of time to notify a veterinarian prior to the race.
"This wasn't a split-second decision for Veitch," Morgan said. "He looked at the horse through his binoculars on the sixth floor and said he didn't see anything wrong with her."
Ron Mitchell contributed to this story.