A leading Thoroughbred owner ejected from Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course has sold many of his horses and said he “doesn’t mind getting out” of the business given the politics.
Michael Gill, whose horses were ordered off the grounds of Penn National by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission Feb. 2, continues to race at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack in Pennsylvania. Gill said he anticipates that situation won’t last much longer; he was ordered to attend a meeting with PHRC officials Feb. 23.
The PHRC hasn’t commented on its investigation into the breakdowns of horses owned by Gill, and in its ejection notice made no mention of charges against the owner. Gill remains licensed by the commission.
“They can’t have me keep racing at Philly,” Gill said Feb. 15. “While I’m running at Philly, it’s an embarrassment. Why are jockeys riding my horses at Philly (if they are a safety risk)?”
Gill, the 2009 leading owner by races won and earnings with more than 2,200 starts, was boycotted by members of the Penn National riding colony. The action began Jan. 23 after one of Gill’s horses fell at the wire, and other horses and riders had to avoid the fallen horse.
At a Jan. 30 meeting with PHRC and racetrack officials, Gill said he was told necropsies on that horse, Laughing Moon, and another runner that broke down revealed no pre-existing injuries. PHRC commission officials wouldn’t comment on the meeting.
Gill indicated he isn’t aware of another rumored investigation involving the Pennsylvania State Police at Penn National. Sources on the backstretch insist individuals have been subpoenaed in an investigation somehow tied to jockey agents and the racing office.
Authorities and the racetrack haven’t acknowledged the probe. The PSP has referred all questions about investigations at Penn National to the PHRC, where press secretary Justin Fleming only confirmed the commission’s ongoing investigation following Gill’s ejection.
Gill said if there is an investigation, he hopes it is broad.
Gill, who had 49 stalls at Penn National, said he got the stalls last year by agreeing to give an agent’s jockeys “first call” on his horses. Gill said when he became dissatisfied with the rides, he made changes. Six weeks later, the jockeys refused to ride his horses or in races in which he had horses.
After Gill made the changes, one of the jockeys, Willie Otero, was suspended 30 days and fined $2,000 for “failure to put forth every reasonable effort” in a Nov. 24 race at Penn National, according to an official PHRC ruling.
Otero's agent, John Krulock, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. Sources said he hasn’t been seen on the backstretch in a few weeks.
“I told my trainer when we made the changes, I knew we’d be gone,” Gill said. “I told people that’s how it went down. I guess I lost my political protection.”
Penn National officials wouldn’t comment on Gill’s contentions, but did note trainers, not jockey agents, apply for stalls.
The awarding of stalls at racetracks is largely kept under wraps. In the case of Penn National and many other tracks, the facilities are private property.
Gill said the situation at Penn National is similar to that of other tracks where he has encountered trouble: Calder Casino & Race Course, Delaware Park, Gulfstream Park, and Saratoga. He said he can’t get stalls “because trainers and owners don’t want me there.”
Gill noted his horses at Penn National earned about $3.1 million in purses last year that now will go to others. He has about 60 horses left to sell.
“I’m an owner that lives 600 miles away,” said Gill, who lives in New Hampshire. “Why am I ruled off? Shouldn’t everybody be asking these questions?
“It’s the locals that run these places. If they want to investigate how I got stalls, they should also investigate why I didn’t get stalls (at Philly Park). There are a handful of trainers that run each track. If I gave my horses to certain people, I’d be in there.
“This got a lot bigger because they accused my horses of being sore, but the real reason it’s corrupt is because they don’t let anybody else in. That’s what’s wrong with racing, and if you want to fix it, you have to admit what’s wrong with it.”
Gill owns Elk Creek Training Center in Oxford, Pa. All of his horses now ship to race.
Esther Marr contributed to this story