'Suwannee' Outcome Appealed Again
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Owner Gary Zwerling has challenged the outcome of a stewards' inquiry that upheld Green Girl's victory in the Feb. 3 Suwannee River Handicap.
The owner of La Dolce Vita has formally appealed the decision of Gulfstream Park stewards not to change the outcome of the Feb. 3 Suwannee River Handicap (gr. III), saying the decision challenges the integrity of horse racing.

Gary Zwerling, who owns La Dolce Vita, the runner-up by a half-length to winner Green Girl, is asking Gulfstream Park officials to honor the track's own rules involving post-parade protocol. Green Girl’s jockey, Rene Douglas, was unseated during the post-parade and off his mount for about 10-12 minutes, Zwerling’s camp claims, giving the declared winner a clear advantage.

“To me it couldn’t be any clearer,” said Zwerling, a former partner in the investment banking and securities giant Goldman Sachs. “I’m not the kind that generally likes to get in these sorts of things, but to me, I find the whole thing kind of astounding."

“According to the handicap rules, I am supposed to get a one-pound advantage,” he said, noting Green Girl gave La Dolce Vita one pound, 118 to 117 pounds. “Instead, I get a one-pound advantage for four minutes maximum and the other horse gets a 100-pound advantage for like 10 minutes.”

A committee of two Gulfstream Park stewards and the track’s racing operations manager Bernie Hettel, a former steward, voted in a 2-1 decision Feb. 14 not to change the outcome. Hettel was the lone dissenter.

“This is an unusual situation where stewards were sitting in judgment of their own decision,” said Zwerling’s attorney, Joel B. Turner, who helped draft the appeal. “They were given that opportunity to correct their decision and did not.”

A Gulfstream Park spokesman declined comment.

“There is a process we are respecting, and we will decline until the proper time,” said Mike Mullaney, the track’s director of media relations.

If granted, the appeal will be heard before an appointed hearing officer. It’s not clear when or if that hearing will be scheduled.

Zwerling said the extended gap without a rider on Green Girl’s back was a clear violation of Gulfstream Park rules. The rules state, in part: “If a horse throws its jockey on the way from the paddock to the post, the horse must be returned to the point where the jockey was thrown, where it shall be remounted and then proceed over the route of the parade to the post. The horse must carry its assigned weight from paddock to post and from post to finish.”

“There is no doubt in my mind this horse should have been scratched,” Zwerling said.

Zwerling also said the decision challenges the integrity of racing, including in regards to handicappers. He said not all bettors have access to watch the post parade and need to be protected against such instances.

“For an industry that is struggling against other forms of gambling to get gamblers to pay attention to it, the last thing it needs is additional issues on integrity,” he said.

La Dolce Vita is trained by Mark Hennig and was ridden in the race by Kent Desormeaux.

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