Churchill Penalized in Derby Gate Case

Churchill Penalized in  Derby Gate Case
Photo: File Photo
Under an agreement with the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, Churchill Downs has agreed to pay a $15,000 administrative penalty stemming from actions involving an assistant starter at this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

The agreement was announced following an executive session by the KHRA during its regular monthly meeting June 16. As part of the agreement, Churchill did not admit to any wrongdoing.

The penalty, along with an agreement relating to the “interpretation of regulations and procedures governing the use of an assistant starter,” are a result of the KHRA’s investigation into assistant starter Clinton Beck being hired to load Pyro into the Derby starting gate at the request of trainer Steve Asmussen.

According to a statement announcing the agreement with Churchill, the KHRA regulations involved are those governing the starter’s assignment of assistant starters prior to a race.

KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood declined to discuss specific facts uncovered in the investigation.
The incident was first reported May 17 by the Indian Charlie newsletter, which said Asmussen persuaded Churchill Downs officials to use Beck to load Pyro. Beck had previously loaded Pyro when the colt raced in Louisiana. Pyro finished eighth in the Derby.

According to Indian Charlie, Churchill Downs’ starter and other racing officials initially rejected the request from Asmussen, but he was allowed to use his own assistant starter after a track official approved it.

Underwood said no the corporation, and no individuals, was fined because an investigation determined mistakes were made by more than one Churchill Downs employee. The KHRA statement noted there was no evidence of inappropriate behavior by Beck during the loading of Pyro in the Derby.

While the agreement ends the case involving Churchill, Underwood said Asmussen and Beck would appear before the stewards concerning the situation.

“The questions raised concerned the procedures by which staff are hired and assigned to start a race,” Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs racetrack and executive vice president of Churchill Downs Inc. said in a statement released by the company.  “We were eager to cooperate in the review and to swiftly address the KHRA’s concerns regarding these procedures.  We believe this agreement is an acceptable resolution for both the KHRA and Churchill Downs.  We are particularly satisfied with their conclusion that the actual running of Kentucky Derby 134 was handled appropriately.”

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