Fantasy Lane Stable has filed an appeal with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board regarding the disqualification of their 3-year-old Uptowncharlybrown , who was disqualified from fifth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) for not carrying the proper weight.
Uptowncharlybrown was placed last for returning after the race missing an eight-pound weight pad. The disqualification cost Fantasy Lane Stable the $30,000 fifth-place purse money, which they are attempting to have restored, along with the $20,000 entry fee.
According to Fantasy Lane managing partner Bob Hutt, a pre-made “Best Pad” saddle had been assembled by a NYRA valet, who according to attorney Karen Murphy, representing Fantasy Lane, was not jockey Rajiv Maragh’s valet.
In a letter to NYRA, Murphy wrote: “We ask that the New York Racing Association, Inc. (“NYRA”), at a minimum, waive the $20,000.00 fee to enter the colt in the race. We do so as it seems quite clear that the error which caused the weighted pad to slip out from under the saddle during the race was the direct result of the improper pre-assembly of the saddle/pad by a NYRA valet. The trainer did not request this pre-assembly and, importantly, the individual that brought the saddle to the paddock for this million dollar race was not the rider’s valet but another NYRA employee. Beyond the assembly error, it is our understanding that the eight-pound “Best Pad” provided by NYRA is objectionable to some of the top riders in this circuit.”
NYRA’s response, sent from assistant general counsel Pasquale Viscusi, said, “The New York Racing Association writes in response to your letter of June 13, 2010 in the above referenced matter. NYRA hereby denies any fault, negligence, or liability in this matter whatsoever. NYRA further denies the request communicated in the letter.”
NYRA president and CEO Charlie Hayward told Bloodhorse.com, “NYRA has no direct involvement here. As you know, the riders have to weigh in and weigh out with the assigned weight according to New York racing law. When the rider did not weigh out with the required weight, he was disqualified by the stewards. NYRA has been contacted by the lawyer for the partnership so we will have no further comment.”
According to Hutt, a NYRA valet came to the paddock with the pre-made saddle, put it on the horse, and left. Hutt said the saddle was not requested by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, as is his option, and that he (Hutt) is unfamiliar with this type of pad and how it is determined who uses them.
“The choice to use a small or big saddle in order to make up the necessary weight of 126 pounds was never an option afforded to Kiaran or me,” Hutt said. “According to NYRA, the person responsible for carrying the correct weight is me.
“I would assume that (jockey) Rajiv (Maragh), when given the choice of saddles, opted for the smaller saddle, but according to him no one at NYRA told him of the potential consequences. He had no idea that the Best Pad could slip out, resulting in a disqualification, or that it had happened before. If Rajiv had been made aware of his options and if he had known all the other jockeys in the Belmont Stakes were not using eight-pound Best Pads he, too, would have opted for the larger saddle and carried less of a Best Pad.”
So, exactly what is a Best Pad? According to the Best Pad website, they were “created to replace lead weights placed in a carrying pouch under the race saddle. They provide extra weight and comfort simultaneously…a unique combination of felt, high-density polymer and vulcanized rubber. They are flexible, comfortable for horse and rider and contain no lead.”
In listing their qualities and benefits, which include being water-resistant, extremely durable, and contoured to the shape of the horse, Best Pads also are said to be “slip-resistant.”
But it has been determined by those involved that at about the seven-eighths pole of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) Uptowncharlybrown’s saddle did indeed slip after an eight-pound weight pad had fallen out. It is clear watching the replay of the race that Maragh had lost a good deal of control of Uptowncharlybrown and is up over the colt’s neck for the final seven furlongs of the race, indicative of a slipped saddle.
“Rajiv had no idea what went wrong, but knew he was in trouble at the seven-furlong pole,” Hutt said. “He rode a masterful race to get beaten only three lengths. Kiaran was embarrassed by the chain of events, and I was totally in the dark until Kiaran explained all the facts.
“It’s pure insanity that in a race like the Belmont Stakes the weighted Best Pads were not all uniform, and that no one from NYRA advised any of us, let alone the head trainer, of our options.”
Hutt said that the rule book states it is the owner who is responsible for the correct weight being carried. But one of the questions they would like answered at an appeal is why the valet took it upon himself to assemble this particular saddle and why McLaughlin had no say in the matter. Following the disqualification, McLaughlin accepted responsibility for not examining the saddle closer.
“We have no way of knowing if the NYRA valet was experienced or had even been taught that if the Best Pad is not applied correctly it could fall out during the running of the race,” Hutt said.
The day after the meeting with McLaughlin, Fantasy Lane, which includes 59 partners in Uptowncharlybrown, filed an appeal and retained the legal services of Murphy.
“When I finally got to speak with one of the stewards, he told me the rule book clearly stated that the owner ‘may’ be disqualified for not carrying the correct weight. I replied if the operative word is ‘may’ then perhaps I ‘may not’ be disqualified if there were extenuating circumstances, which in this case there most certainly was. He actually asked me if I was the one who had placed the saddle on Charly.
“We were all thrilled to have had the honor to run Uptowncharlybrown in the Belmont Stakes,” Hutt said. “And if we had lost because Charly wasn't good enough, or did not have the stamina to get the distance, we could have accepted it and moved on. But this is not the case.
“All we're asking is for NYRA to do the honorable thing. But they act as if the fault was all ours. We have enough experts to litigate the matter to prove we were denied the chance at the $600,000 purse, possibly compromising the horse’s stud value, because of NYRA’s wrongdoing. We understand that mistakes happen, as we all make them. But for NYRA not to accept any responsibility in this matter is disgraceful.”