John Velazquez

John Velazquez

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Attorney Contends Velazquez is Scapegoat

Jockey was aboard Life At Ten in Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

The attorney for jockey John Velazquez said her client is a “scapegoat” in connection with the events surrounding last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) in which Life At Ten was eased during the course of the race.

In a March 11 statement that takes the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to task, attorney and prominent horse owner Maggi Moss said the charges against Velazquez would not withstand legal scrutiny.

Moss’ statement came one day after the KHRC voted there was probable cause to believe that both Velazquez and chief state steward John Veitch were in violation of racing regulations in connection with the Life At Ten situation. Life At Ten, owned by Candy DeBartolo and trained by Todd Pletcher, finished last in the Ladies’ Classic as the second choice at odds of 7-2. Life At Ten had no run when the field left the gate, and she was not persevered with throughout the 1 1/8-mile race.

Before the race, Velazquez told retired jockey Jerry Bailey, who was assisting with the ESPN coverage of the Breeders’ Cup, that the filly did not look right, but did not relay those concerns to the stewards or any KHRC veterinarians. The day after the Ladies’ Classic, Pletcher said it appeared that Life At Ten had an allergic reaction to Salix, a bleeder medication she was treated with prior to the race.

Here is the text of the statement issued by Moss:

I represent John Velazquez, who has cooperated from the outset in the investigation by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC).

In this particular case, there were no specific rules of racing violated by Mr. Velazquez, as admitted by the KHRC. They speak about “common sense” and have charged my client with a catch-all rule of racing that his actions were not “in the best interest of racing.” I submit they missed the “common sense” of the knowledge of the riders, the risks the jockeys take every time they climb on the back of a horse and the duties of all of the participants involved. 

To “charge” a jockey such as John Velazquez with “not acting in the best interests of racing” is the equivalent of stopping a driver and charging him with a crime due to the police not liking what he said or how he acted, without any real violation. More tantamount is how do regulators dictate to jockeys when to scratch and when to ride a horse? A jockey is not going to intentionally ride a horse that he or she believes is truly in distress or injured. To do so would not only jeopardize their own life and the horse’s life, but the lives of all of the jockeys and horses. The risk is great without any additional factors.

Just 15 days prior to the Breeder’s Cup races at Churchill Downs, (jockey) Garrett Gomez told the KHRC vet at the starting gate that there was a problem with the horse he was riding at Keeneland, Stream of Gold. The state vet didn’t see anything that merited scratching, and allowed the horse to run with a different jockey and the horse finished a poor seventh. How does the public, or authorities, ever reconcile the ever changing scenery?

Throughout this investigation, the truism best spoken by Mr. Velazquez is as follows: “I’ve ridden thousands of horses: some do not warm up perfect and run brilliantly. Conversely, some warm up perfectly and run poorly.”

As indicated by the KHRC and those interviewed, it was never a case of the unsoundness of this great mare. Any attempt to notify personnel of a horse being quiet would never have led to a scratch, especially given the caliber of the race and the interest of the public.

On behalf of all jockeys in the world, this precedence is at most chilling, and now sets an unworkable standard for all jockeys. By electing to proceed with such a charge, the regulators are essentially setting a precedent that jockeys should scratch every horse that warms up sound but sluggish. Otherwise, they could potentially be to subject to sanctions or other penalties.

We do not make light or undermine the travesty to racing and the betting public as a result of the “Life at Ten incident” during the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. However, charging John Velazquez, an individual with such great integrity, after months of “investigation” will never improve the image of our sport and rebuild the public trust. He is, quite simply, a scapegoat. The entire process, as well as the charges against Mr. Velazquez, will not withstand legal scrutiny.

The only thing that is apparent as a result of this investigation is that the incident with Life at Ten was a debacle and the perfect storm of mistakes, with the real harm to the betting public and further derogation of our beleaguered sport. It was, in all likelihood, an aberration that will never occur again. Worse yet, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission only darkened racing and sadly “indicted” the wrong person.

All of us passionate about this sport, and the public, plead for the national leadership to restore reason, regulation, and trust, and sadly, the industry has failed again.