Split Decision in Veitch/Life At Ten Case

Court of Appeals rules partially in favor of Veitch and partially in favor of KHRC.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has issued a mixed ruling in the John Veitch/Life At Ten case and has ordered reconsideration of the one-year suspension handed the former chief steward for horse racing in the Bluegrass state.

In the Oct. 25 ruling, the three-judge panel determined the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission acted properly in upholding a hearing officer's conclusion that Veitch should have ordered Life At Ten sent for post-race testing following her lackluster effort in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I), now called the Distaff.

The judges also ruled, however, that the hearing officer's conclusion and KHRC affirmation that Veitch should have taken action with regard to Life At Ten prior to the race did not constitute a violation of racing regulations and that he should not have been suspended for not ordering a pre-race veterinary inspection of the filly.

Veitch, a Hall of Fame trainer who was Kentucky's top regulator, was subsequently suspended for a year when the KHRC upheld a hearing officer's report into the circumstances surrounding the performance of Life At Ten during the Ladies' Classic.

Hearing officer Robert Layton concluded Veitch had violated five 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. Also, Layton concluded, and the KHRC agreed, that Veitch should have ordered Life At Ten tested after the Ladies' Classic, in which she was not persevered with and ran last as the 7-2 second choice.

Following the Ladies' Classic, KHRC initiated charges into whether Veitch or Velazquez had violated racing regulations with regard to the incident. Velazquez did not admit to wrongdoing but paid a $10,000 fine, half of which went to a charitable organization.

Veitch refused to admit wrongdoing and also refused to pay a fine, resulting in a lengthy and costly investigation by the KHRC that led to the suspension. Prior to the suspension, Veitch was fired in November 2011 without cause and only recently became licensed and employed for the first time since. Veitch's firing has been upheld by the Kentucky Personnel Board.

In appealing the suspension, Veitch's attorneys argued that the regulations under which he was charged were unconstitutional because they are vague, that the KHRC's order violated equal protection and due process guarantees, and that the order was arbitrary and capricious and not supported by evidence in the record.

Previously, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate upheld the Veitch suspension, resulting in an appeal that led to the Oct. 25 ruling.

"We agree with Veitch that there was insufficient evidence to support the KHRC's findings regarding his violations of 810KAR 1:004 Section 4(1) and 810 KAR 1:012 Section 10(1) based on the pre-race comments of the jockey standing alone," the appeals court said. "Simply stated, the jockey's pre-race comments did not immediately call into question Life At Ten's health and well-being, mandating action by Veitch.

"However, the horse's poor, unexpected racing performance certainly did require Veitch to take action based on the regulations," the opinion said. "We agree with the KHRC that ample evidence within the record supports such findings by the KHRC based on the poor performance."

The Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the Circuit Court "for further proceedings, including reconsideration of the penalty, in a manner not inconsistent with this opinion."

Tom Miller, Veitch's attorney, said he was pleased that while his client did not get a complete victory within the appeals court the judges did agree that Velazquez' comments prior to the race were not enough basis for the steward to have acted prior to the race.

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said in a statement that it "is pleased that the Court of Appeals affirmed the commission's actions findings and conclusions that Veitch violated regulations with regard to the post-race performance of Life At Ten. As regards the other findings of the court, the commission is reviewing its options and next steps."