John Veitch, the chief state steward for Kentucky Thoroughbred racing, defended his actions June 28 in the first day of a hearing in connection with Life At Ten’s participation in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs last Nov. 5.
Prior to the race, jockey John Velazquez, interviewed while aboard Life At Ten as a rider on a lead pony held a microphone rode alongside, told ESPN commentator Jerry Bailey that Life At Ten was not warming up as she normally does. That information was relayed to the stewards by ESPN producer Amy Zimmerman, but the stewards did not contact the racetrack veterinarians overseeing the race to alert them to the situation.
The 7-2 second choice in the Ladies’ Classic, Life At Ten trailed the field throughout the race and was listed on the chart as not finishing the race (View Race). The filly did, however, cross the finish line and returned to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn without assistance. Pletcher later said it appeared that Life At Ten had experienced an allergic reaction to anti-bleeder medication she was administered prior to the race.
In March, the KHRC by a vote of 9-1 said there was probable cause that Velazquez and Veitch violated Kentucky horse racing regulations, laying the groundwork for the hearing before hearing officer Robert Layton. Velazquez earlier agreed to pay a $10,000—half of which went to charity—to settle his case.
During the first day of the hearing into whether Veitch violated regulations in his handling of the Life At Ten matter, Veitch said he did not believe he and the two association stewards—Brooks Becraft and Rick Leigh—were in a position to order the track veterinarians to look at Life At Ten prior to the race.
Questioned about testimony earlier in the day from Becraft—the only steward to indicate the veterinarian should be contacted after hearing the Velazquez comments, Veitch confirmed that he said if they contacted the veterinarians they might as well scratch Life At Ten.
Veitch said any of the stewards could have independently contacted the racetrack veterinarian to have Life At Ten inspected, but that never happened. He said he believed Becraft finally was persuaded by Veitch’s reasons for not contacting the track vet.
“My reasoning was that we never contact a veterinarian on a veterinary or medical opinion,” Veitch said. “We are not trained that way; that is not our responsibility. It is the responsibility of the state veterinarians.”
Noting that the stewards’ booth is located six stories above the racetrack at Churchill Downs, Veitch said “we are not in any way able to make a valid physical determination and the veterinarians are...we should never influence them.”
Veitch disagreed with Becraft’s testimony that the other two stewards defer to Veitch on final decision-making because as senior state steward he “has senority over you in these decisions.” Veitch said the stewards’ decisions are based on a majority in cases where there is disagreement and that all of their opinions are weighed equally.
Earlier, Becraft and Leigh testified about the procedures undertaken by stewards before, during, and after a race and both agreed that it would have been unusual for them to contact the state vet about a horse behaving like Life At Ten—who showed no outward signs of being in distress or lame—simply based on comments made by Velazquez on television. They said the responsibility rested with the 11 vets assigned to the Breeders’ Cup.
In addition to the allegation that Veitch did not live up to his responsibilities by not contacting the veterinarian concerning the comments made by Velazquez on television, the steward is also facing charges that he was negligent by not ordering Life At Ten to go to a barn for post-race drug testing and that he did not initiated an investigation into the Life At Ten matter in the days following the race.
Veitch, Becraft, and Leigh all agreed that their standard procedures in the case where a horse might be in distress following a race—a possibility considering the way that Life At Ten ran—they do not order post-race drug tests and believe it is better for the horse to return to its own barn where it can be inspected by a veterinarian. For races such as the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, the top four finishers are automatically subjected to post-race testing and stewards have discretion to order testing of any other horses in the race.
Becraft and Leigh both said that the stewards had begun their investigation into the Life At Ten matter until they were told to halt the work because the KHRC was taking it over.
During the June 28 hearing, Velazquez testified via telephone from New York, saying he did not contact the track vet to have Life At Ten inspected because other than not warming up normally, she appeared to be fine. As the horses prepared to break from the gate, Velazquez said he expected Life At Ten to run to the best of her ability.
Veitch also said he was not aware that jockeys would be interviewed by ESPN analysts during the post parade prior to the Ladies’ Classic or other Cup races because neither he nor the other stewards were involved in the pre-production meetings held between representatives of the KHRC and of the television network to discuss logistics involved with the broadcast of the two days of races. Veitch, and the other the stewards confirmed earlier, that they could not recall a pre-production meeting for an upcoming major televised race in which the stewards were not involved. Veitch said he would not have approved the pre-race jockey interviews during the post parade.
In telephone testimony, Zimmerman recounted her actions in contacting the stewards, noting that she assumed they would in turn contact the veterinarians to have Life At Ten looked at prior to the race. Zimmerman also said she was involved in a conversation later with Dr. Mary Scollay in which the equine medical director for the commission said she thought Life At Ten had a behavorial problem rather than a physical problem and that she would not have scratched the horse. Scollay is scheduled to testify when the hearing continues Wednesday, June 29.
In his opening argument, Chapman Hopkins, who along with Luke Morgan are representing the commission as outside legal counsel, said the evidence that would be presented would show that Veitch “chose to be a spectator rather than to fulfill his responsibilities.”
Tom Miller, representing Veitch before hearing officer Robert Layton, said his client is a scapegoat in the Life At Ten matter since no charges were brought against either of the other two stewards. He also said that the regulations are vague as to exactly what stewards are to do in situations such as the Ladies’ Classic.
“We do not believe Mr. Veitch should be here today... It is unprecedented,” Miller said.
Veitch, a Hall of Fame Thoroughbred trainer who has been chief steward since July 2005, is expected to resume his testimony June 29. Upon completion of the hearing, Layton will file a report, with recommendations, to the commission. The commission can accept all or part of Layton’s recommendations or reject all of it.