A hearing officer for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has recommended a nine-month suspension for former chief steward John Veitch for his role in the circumstances surrounding the performance of Life At Ten in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I).
The Dec. 22 recommendation from Robert Layton, chief hearing officer for the Office of Administrative Hearings for the state of Kentucky, is the latest in a long list of events and court decisions stemming from the Life At Ten incident. It is the result of a Court of Appeals ruling that the initial penalty should be reconsidered by the commission.
He was also fired from his position, without cause, in a move that has since been overturned by an appeals court judge who determined the wrong state official carried out that action.
Layton's nine-month suspension recommendation is not a new suspension and would be mostly moot because Veitch, a Hall of Fame trainer who was Kentucky's top regulator before his career unraveled following the 2010 Breeders' Cup, has already served a one-year suspension assessed him based on the initial recommendation of Layton in November 2011.
Layton determined Veitch had violated rules of racing by not having Life At Ten inspected by a veterinarian or scratched from the race after jockey John Velazquez told an ESPN audience the filly was not warming up properly prior to the race. Additionally, Layton ruled and the commission agreed Veitch should have ordered Life At Ten, trained by Todd Pletcher, tested after the Ladies' Classic, in which she was not persevered with and ran last as the 7-2 second choice.
Pletcher was never charged in connection with the incident and said later it appeared Life At Ten's performance could have been related to a reaction to a legal anti-bleeder medication she was administered.
The commission determined there was reason to believe Velazquez had violated rules of racing as a result of his actions prior to the race, but he was never charged and paid a $10,000 fine, half of which went to a charitable organization.
Veitch, insisting he had done nothing wrong, has continued to appeal his suspension and firing, costing him more than six figures in legal fees. The state also has spent more than $100,000 in connection with the case.
Layton's nine-month recommendation stems from a ruling by the state Court of Appeals that while a suspension for Veitch for not having Live At Ten tested following the Ladies' Classic was proper, he should not have been sanctioned for any pre-race decisions.
In his latest recommendation, Layton said Veitch's failure to order post-race testing of Life At Ten and waiting two days after the race to open an investigation raised questions about the integrity of racing in Kentucky because it will never be known what caused the filly's reversal in form. As a result, Layton wrote, a stiff penalty should be imposed.
"Was Life At Ten given any prohibited substance on Breeders' Cup Day? No evidence was presented at the hearing that established that, but unfortunately, no one will ever know," Layton said. "Because Veitch failed in his duty to designate Life At Ten for sampling, the public and racing participants will never be assured of what the true answer is to that question. The public will never know if there were any acts surrounding this race which violated racing's integrity."
A commission spokesman said that as a matter of policy, the regulatory body does not comment on pending litigation.
Tom Miller, Veitch's attorney, said he was not surprised by Layton's recommendation and that a nine-month suspension would still be excessive. He said his client will file an "exception" to the report and will request only a fine be assessed, adding "he will again show John is being made a scapegoat by the KHRC administration."
"I remain very concerned about the integrity of the process, but not surprised by the hearing officer's recommendation," Miller said. "We had asked for a new hearing officer after the Court of Appeals set aside the original recommendation. John is the only steward ever to have his official's license suspended in Kentucky.
"The hearing officer's original recommendation of a one-year suspension was based primarily on his failure to direct the state vets to examine LAT pre-race based on the interview with his jockey on the track. But, the Court of Appeals held there was no violation for any pre-race decision by the stewards. So, three of the five violations were eliminated. At worst, a reasonable reaction would be to reduce the sanction by 60%, so the penalty would be five months suspension."
Miller said Layton's conclusion that the public will never know if Life At Ten was given a prohibited substance excludes the fact that blood samples were taken from the filly by a state veterinarian a few hours before the race and there were no adverse findings. "She was in a detention barn thereafter until the race and Todd Pletcher, her trainer, was never charged with any wrongdoing," Miller said.