Cup Pre-Race Jockey Interviews to be Allowed

Chief steward John Veitch said he opposes the plan agreed to by networks and others.

New policies in place at this year’s Breeders’ Cup as a result of the Life At Ten incident in 2010 will still allow pre-race television interviews with jockeys immediately prior to the start of a World Championship race.

During the Nov. 2 planning meeting to review the broadcast coverage, it was agreed by representatives of the networks, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Churchill Downs, and Breeders’ Cup that jockeys could be interviewed by broadcasters on horseback during the two-minute window leading up to post time, according to chief steward John Veitch.

Life At Ten, owned by Candy DeBartolo and trained by Todd Pletcher, finished last in the 2010 Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) as the second choice at odds of 7-2. With jockey John Velazquez aboard, Life At Ten had no run when the field left the gate, and she was not persevered with throughout the race.

Before the race, Velazquez told retired jockey Jerry Bailey, who was assisting with the ESPN coverage of the Breeders’ Cup, that the filly was not warming up as she normally does, but those concerns were not relayed to the stewards or any KHRC veterinarians.

Noting that “I was the voice in the wilderness,” Veitch said he opposed allowing jockeys to be interviewed immediately prior to the World Championship races.

“It was agreed that they could interview any jockeys they deemed appropriate unless something unusual happens,” Veitch said of the plan. “There was a lot of discussion on that (prohibiting pre-race interviews of jockeys) and I was against allowing it. My reasoning for that is that once a horse leaves the paddock, he is on the playing field, just like a baseball player, or football player, and should be concentrating on the race.

“The networks felt it produced a better show for them if they could interview the jockeys, that it would enhance the coverage and make for a better program,” Veitch said. “I felt, and was argued down, that people who watched the Life At Ten situation on television had much more information than people who were at the races … They were saying that happens all the time; somebody sees something on television, reads something in the paper, sees something in an interview that everybody doesn’t hear. There is some credibility to that.”

Veitch said the KHRC’s legal staff determined that prohibiting the interviews would bring into question free speech and constitutional issues. Unlike a sports league such as privately held Major League Baseball or the National Football League, which have wide discretion over such matters without infringing upon free speech, the racetrack stewards are considered government entities and “are held to a higher standard on free speech,” Veitch said.

With the exception of the Marathon (gr. II), which will air on TVG, the World Championship races Nov. 4-5 will be shown by ESPN and ABC. A commission employee will monitor any televised jockey interviews to see if any report problems with their horses.

Two weeks ago, the KHRC, Breeders’ Cup, and Churchill Downs announced new policies that included:

--Establishment of a "Communications Command Center" at Churchill Downs, staffed by a KHRC employee who is also an accredited steward. The Communications Command Center will monitor all radio channels used by the veterinary team and track personnel, television broadcasts, simulcast and on-track feeds;

--Designating one of the three stewards to be in the paddock during saddling for each race;

--Instituting easily identifiable uniforms with the words VET TEAM in large block letters for both the KHRC  and Breeders’ Cup veterinarian team members to aid race participants;

--Inclusion of the stewards and representatives of the Jockeys’ Guild in a pre-event television production meeting; and,

--Advance meetings with the Jockeys’ Guild regarding on-track veterinary team and pre-race communications protocols.

The day after the Ladies’ Classic, trainer Todd Pletcher said it appeared that Life At Ten had an allergic reaction to Salix, a medication she was treated with prior to the race.

The KHRC immediately undertook an investigation that looked into, among other things, who had knowledge of Velazquez’s comments prior to the race and whether action should have been taken to have the filly inspected and/or scratched.

A report stemming from the investigation determined there was no intentional wrongdoing, but cited a sequence of communication breakdowns and some vagueness about responsibilities that led to questions about what action should have been taken before and after the race with regard to Life At Ten.

The KHRC found probable cause that Velazquez and Veitch had violated rules of racing in connection with the incident. Although he did not admit to violating any rules of racing, Velazquez paid a $10,000 fine, half of which went to charity.
The case against Veitch is pending, with both parties having spent more than $100,000 on the proceeding. A hearing officer is working on a report and recommendations stemming from three days of hearings that were conducted this summer.