Possible friction among Kentucky Horse Racing Commission staff was part of testimony June 30 on the third and final day of an administrative hearing to examine whether state chief steward John Veitch violated racing regulations in connection with the Life At Ten incident last year.
Veitch during the hearing repeated earlier testimony that he believes proper protocol was followed after jockey John Velazquez, in an ESPN interview while the horses were on the track for the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I), claimed the filly wasn’t warming up to race as she normally does. Velazquez didn’t relay his concerns to veterinarians on site, though a television producer contacted the stewards.
The day three proceedings led hearing officer Robert Layton to tell attorneys on several occasions their questioning was redundant in light of ground covered the first two days. It isn’t known when Layton will issue his findings in the Veitch case.
Veitch, under questioning from his attorney, Tom Miller, said that soon after the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs he planned to broaden the Life At Ten by talking to more participants but was asked by KHRC deputy executive director Marc Guilfoil if he would allow the commission to handle the probe.
“He put it to me in the form of a question, that would I have any objection to the racing commission taking over,” Veitch said. (Stewards Rick Leigh and Brooks Becraft) had no objection, and I had none.”
Veitch said it was the first time he was asked if he would mind giving up an investigation before it “reached the final stages of the first procedure.” The KHRC then called about 70 witnesses in the case before voting 9-1 earlier this year to cite Veitch for violating regulations.
Miller asked Veitch if he and KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood had disagreements regarding racing commission business. Veitch indicated there was some friction.
“We had some problems with her interference in what I felt should be decision-making by the office of the stewards,” Veitch said. “I felt like Miss Underwood was stepping a little over the line.”
Veitch noted a case last summer at Ellis Park in western Kentucky in which a trainer already slapped with a one-year penalty had another horse test positive for a medication. After an investigation stewards determined a veterinarian wrongly treated the horse without the trainer knowing, and they ultimately decided a penalty similar to the first one was excessive.
The stewards believed the trainer should be penalized but not severely, Veitch said.
Having been approached by Underwood on a number of occasions about racing commissioners’ desire to have participants suspended when there are violations, Veitch said a KHRC member recommended he go to KHRC chairman Robert Beck to discuss the case. Veitch said the KHRC member joined him.
“The chairman agreed with the stewards (on the lighter penalty),” Veitch said. When asked by Miller how Underwood reacted, Veitch said: “She was stunned. She reacted poorly.”
Later, when asked by Luke Morgan, an attorney hired by the KHRC for the hearing, if there is a vendetta against him, Veitch said: “I haven’t read any of those comments.”
Morgan earlier in the day had called witness Scott Chaney, a steward in California, to have him comment about regulatory procedures at the state’s racetracks. He said it’s not usual for HRTV producer Amy Zimmerman, who called the Churchill stewards last year to relay Velazquez’s comments made on television, to contact the stewards with her observations about horses on the track.
Chaney said veterinarians in California can get information from many sources, and that he trusts Zimmerman’s horsemanship.
In Kentucky, according to Veitch, the stewards let the on-track veterinarians determine whether a horse isn’t fit to race, because they are qualified and it’s their job.
It was clear in testimony throughout the hearing that Velazquez’s post-parade comments on air and subsequent statements by commentators on ESPN, set the wheels in motion for a situation stewards hadn’t previously had to deal with. Also, it was repeatedly stated veterinarians saw no reason to order Life At Ten scratched.
In other testimony, Dr. Foster Northrop, a member of the KHRC, said he watched the filly walk back to the barn area after the Ladies’ Classic and saw nothing wrong.
“She was walking perfectly normal back to the barn,” Northrop said. “She wasn’t in distress.”
Northrop, who was in the barn area at Churchill when the race was run and didn’t watch the replay of the coverage until three months later, testified it’s not common practice for him to call the stewards about a horse’s condition in the post parade unless the animal is one of his patients and he’s notified of a problem. As for the TV coverage, Northrop indicated it was questionable.
“When I saw the coverage, (former jockey) Jerry Bailey’s comments were absurd,” Northrop said. “He couldn’t even see (Life At Ten). She galloped toward the camera, stood for about 30 seconds, then walked to the gate. A horse that was ‘tying up’ would never have gotten to the gate.”
Tying up is muscle cramping. When asked by Layton his opinion on what was wrong with the filly, Northrop said she was “most likely” sick with a virus or respiratory infection.
Northrop also said horses can warm up poorly and perform well in races a few minutes later, and when asked if he’d be concerned by the comments of Velazquez and Bailey on air, he said: “No.”
Testimony in the case continued into the afternoon of June 30. It could be months before Layton has time to review the transcripts and issue a finding.