Life At Ten before the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

Life At Ten before the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

Skip Dickstein

Veitch, Vets Testify in Life At Ten Case

John Veitch testifies during second day of administrative hearing.

The chief state steward overseeing racing in Kentucky and several veterinarians working at Churchill Downs during last fall’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships testified June 29 that they saw nothing out of the ordinary with Life At Ten prior to her participation in the Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5.

John Veitch, the chief steward who is facing an administrative hearing initiated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission into whether he violated racing regulations by his actions—or lack thereof—at Churchill Downs Nov. 5, testified that he saw nothing out of the ordinary with Life At Ten as she was warming up prior to the race.

"I saw nothing out of the ordinary with this horse, so why should I call a vet? If the jockey saw anything wrong, it’s his responsibility to go to the vet," the chief steward said June 29.

In an interview with the ESPN network while on horseback as the horses were warming up for the Ladies’ Classic, jockey John Velazquez said 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). She returned to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn following the race and veterinary tests later showed she had “tied up.” Pletcher said Life At Ten’s veterinarian had determined she had experienced an allergic reaction to anti-bleeder medication she was administered prior to the race.

Much of the testimony during the first two days of the hearing has centered around what the stewards knew about Life At Ten’s behavior prior to the race and whether they should have taken action to contact the state veterinarians to have he inspected, with the possibility she could be scratched out of the Ladies’ Classic.

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. In April, Velazquez agreed to pay $10,000—half of which went to charity—to settle his case while acknowledging that he "may have" violated one or more Kentucky racing rules.

Veitch testified that the stewards turned on the ESPN coverage of the Breeders’ Cup after being contacted by Zimmerman, but they did not hear most of the pre-race coverage that included another interview with Velazquez about Life At Ten’s actions. Veitch said he missed the ESPN broadcast because he and another steward went out onto the balcony of the stewards’ stand to look at Life At Ten through his binoculars.

Based on his observation, Veitch said he did not see anything wrong and therefore did not make a call to the vets to have them look at Life At Ten.

“No,” Veitch said when asked if he made a mistake by not contacting the on-track veterinarians. "If I heard the entire broadcast, I might have had the vets check her, but I can’t speculate."

Under intense questioning from Luke Morgan, an attorney representing the racing commission as outside counsel, Veitch took issue with testimony the previous day from Zimmerman that she told the stewards to turn on the ESPN broadcast because Velazquez had said his mount “ain’t right.”

Veitch said that type of comment would have raised greater awareness on the part of the stewards. He said Zimmerman only told the stewards to turn on the ESPN coverage.

Dr. Bryce Peckham, the state’s chief veterinarian, also said he did not see anything out of the ordinary with Life At Ten while she was in the paddock or on the track and that he also was unaware of Velazquez’ concerns about Life At Ten.

Peckham said Dr. Larry Bramlage, the American Association of Equine Veterinarians “on-call” vet working the Breeders’ Cup, did relay a message over the radios used by some of the vets asking if “any rider had brought a horse to any of my vets.”

Peckham said the question from Bramlage “kind of took me aback” and that he checked with the other  vets to see if a jockey had contacted any with concerns about their mounts. None had and Peckham said he did not think to ask for more elaboration from Bramlage at the time, but now wishes he had.

After being cognizant of Life At Ten’s lack of effort in the Ladies’ Classic, Peckham approached Velazquez after the race to find out what happened.

The vet said he was told by the jockey that Life At Ten did not put out any effort but that she appeared OK.

Morgan, who at one point was cautioned by hearing officer Robert Layton about his aggressive style in his questioning of Veitch, honed in on Veitch’s contention that it was not customary for stewards to make the call on scratching a horse that might have a physical problem without first being contacted by the vets. Veitch said those decisions are made by the stewards upon recommendation of the veterinarians.

Citing an incident at Keeneland in April 2010, Morgan pointed out that the stewards directed the veterinarians to inspect a horse prior to a race and that the stewards ordered them to scratch the horse. Veitch testified that was a different circumstance, that the stewards were involved with investigating an owner who had contacted them and told them the horse was lame when in fact it was not; he said the entire incident involved a dispute between the owner and trainer and that the stewards had already decided to scratch the horse and needed the veterinary report to later show that the owner was wrong and the horse was OK.

Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the KHRC, said she did not become aware of Velazquez’ comments on ESPN until after the races Nov. 5 and that she watched the network’s coverage the following day.

Based on the horse’s behavior—and with no indication of any physical problems with Life At Ten—Scollay said the veterinarians acted properly.

The hearing into charges against Veitch continues June 30 when Tom Miller, Veitch’s attorney, will cross-examine his client.

Miller has contended that Veitch is a scapegoat and has been singled out for prosecution because of conflicts between him and KHRC administrators over the way he disciplines licensees.