The California Horse Racing Board and horse owner Jerry Jamgotchian have settled a lawsuit over a race in 2005 at Del Mar in which Jamgotchian alleged a steward forced him to run a horse against his will.
The case against steward George Slender alleged that he had exceeded his authority by forcing Jamgotchian and trainer Mark Glatt to run John's Kinda Girl in the seventh race at Del Mar Aug. 14, 2005. The CHRB agreed to pay Jamgotchian $35,000 to settle the lawsuit, according to Robert Miller, general counsel for the CHRB. The case was set to go trial following a state appellate court's decision last year in Jamgotchian's favor.
Miller said the CHRB, which was represented in court by Albert Y. Muratsuchi of the state attorney general's office, "felt it had a very winnable case" but chose not to pursue it because of the board's "limited financial resources."
"Jamgotchian offered to settle the case and it was a matter of weighing the cost of settling or going to trial," Miller explained. "It would have been very expensive for the board to go to trial."
Responding in an e-mail, Jamgotchian, a longtime CHRB critic and litigant against the board over a variety of issues, wrote: "The CHRB wasted over $200,000 in state funds on this case which was caused solely by (former CHRB executive director) Ingrid Fermin and (former board chairman) Richard Shapiro's protection of their rogue steward, George Slender.
"Hopefully, all horseracing stewards will get this message and actually know the rules before taking action against any licensee," Jamgotchian added. "I'm pleased with yet another legal victory against the CHRB and hope that the CHRB will stop hiring stewards who believe that they are above the law and without oversight."
In the original lawsuit, filed in December 2005, Jamgotchian alleged that Slender had, in effect, taken control of his horse in order to prevent Jamgotchian from withdrawing John's Kinda Girl after the designated scratch time. He contended that Slender, the on-duty steward on the morning of the race, refused to grant the request and that he repeatedly threatened Jamgotchian and Glatt with suspension of their licenses if the horse didn't run.
Jamgotchian further alleged that Slender prevented removal of the horse from the Del Mar grounds by stationing a guard at the horse's stall and directing gate security to stop a horse van hired for the purpose into the barn area.
John's Kinda Girl, who was saddled by Glatt even though Jamgotchian had "fired" him prior to the race, ran seventh of eight at odds of 28-1 in the Del Mar race.
In a pre-trial motion, a Superior Court judge granted Slender immunity, finding that he was protected by a CHRB rule giving him discretion as a steward. But the decision was reversed by a three-judge panel of California Second Appellate District, which ruled that Slender did not have the right to take preemptive action against an owner who wants to scratch his horse even if the owner's request violates rules governing late withdrawals.
"The regulatory scheme allows the stewards to discipline any person responsible for the failure of any horse to start in a race when the starting was obligatory," the decision said. "The stewards may take disciplinary actions after the failure to run occurs, limited to fines, suspension, or exclusion of the person responsible. But the regulations do not authorize any preemptive action by the stewards to prevent the failure of a horse to start. There is no discretion vested in the stewards to bar an owner from retrieving his or her horse before a race is run."
Slender, a California steward for more than 30 years, was employed as an independent contractor and was sued individually, along with Glatt. Jamgotchian hinted that Slender would no longer be allowed to work California race meets as a result of the settlement.
Miller said Slender remains on the list of qualified stewards in the state, although he is not currently assigned.