Michael Gill

Michael Gill

Skip Dickstein

Penn Temporarily Bans Horses Owned by Gill

Penn National is investigating the breakdown of horses owned by Michael Gill.

Horses entered in the name of Michael Gill, North America’s leading owner by races won and purses earned in 2009, will not be accepted for entry at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course effective immediately.

Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for track owner Penn National Gaming Inc., said Jan. 25 the temporary restriction has been put in place pending a meeting to review the necropsy results of two runners owned by Gill that recently broke down at the Pennsylvania track.

Several other runners owned by Gill have ralso eportedly suffered fatal breakdowns on the track since Oct. 1, although exact numbers have not been confirmed.

Gill, the leading owner in North America by purses earned and races won in 2003, 2004, and 2009—he led by wins and was second by earnings in 2005, the year he won an Eclipse Award—had taken a break from racing in 2006 but returned in 2008. He has 49 stalls at Penn National and stables the remainder of his 120 horses at his private training center, Elk Creek Ranch in Oxford, Pa.

Last year, 2,247 horses raced under his silks to 370 wins and earnings of $6,670,490.

“To my knowledge, regarding further entries at this point, we are going to wait until we have a scheduled meeting with Mr. Gill and his trainers once we get those reports from the most recent breakdowns,” McErlean said. “We want the ability to speak with him and his trainers to find out what’s going on and get some more information at that time.”

The practice of running and reviewing a necropsy exam on horses that suffer fatal injuries at Penn National is one instituted by the track at the start of the year in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission.

“We’ve set up a process between ourselves and the commission to do an informal review of the report, to allow the trainer to tell us of any issues they were aware of, and through looking at vet records to try to piece together any reasons why the breakdown could have occurred,” McErlean said.

McErlean said results of the necropsies should be available by Jan. 27, and a meeting could be scheduled by the end of the week.

The restriction follows a threatened boycott of Penn National’s Jan. 23 card by jockeys that were concerned over a second spill involving one of Gill’s entries in a three-day period. The Darrel Delahoussaye-trained Laughing Moon broke down after the wire under jockey Ricky Frazier in the fifth race Jan. 23. A previous incident occurred Jan. 21, when Melodeeman, trained by Anthony Adamo, suffered a catastrophic breakdown in the second race on the card.

After a lengthy delay, Adamo scratched Justin M, Gill’s only other entry on the card, from the sixth race. Trainers subsequently withdrew horses owned by Gill from ensuing race cards; horses were entered through Jan 28.

Anthony Black, a veteran Pennsylvania rider who was active in forming the Philadelphia Park Jockeys organization, said he spoke to several riders involved in the situation. Black also approached stewards at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack to inform them of local riders’ concerns.

“I talked to three older riders who are based there, and they’re having second thoughts when it comes to riding races with his horses,” Black said. “They’ve not ridden good races, and they realize they haven’t, because they wouldn’t tuck in behind those horses in the blue and white Gill colors—and it makes good sense not to tuck in behind them when they’re breaking down like that.”

Gill, reached Jan. 25, said his horses did not break down at a higher rate than usual for lower-level claimers. He said he has always maintained a practice of complete transparency with racing authorities.

“They can go through all my horses at my farm, at the barn, unannounced, uninvited,” Gill said. “They can take any blood test, jog the horses, look at everything. I’ve always been that way. You find something illegal with these horses, I’ll quit.

“We ran 2,247 horses last year and did we have a bad test? Not one. How many trainers do you think can claim that?”

Gill said he believes his practice of running large numbers of horses and claiming from smaller operations has angered horsemen on circuits from Delaware to Florida. In 2003, he was involved in a similar controversy stemming from the fatal breakdown of the Mark Shuman-trained Casual Conflict, but was exonerated along with his trainer of all wrongdoing in the situation.

“The people that we’re claiming from who happen to have been in that community for the past 20-30 years are unhappy,” Gill said “It’s not new. We’re claiming an inordinate amount of horses and taking too much money off the table. I take grief because I own a lot of claiming horses, but how many people spend millions of dollars on horses that never even make it to the racetrack?”

According to Gill, in 2009 he had two horses that suffered fatal injuries at Penn National for the entire year.

“The horse that broke down (Jan. 23) was sound; he had just won the race before," Gill said. "I’ll show you his vet records. He'd never been ‘tapped.' Maybe the track was a little hard; that’s part of winter racing when you’re running at a track in January where it’s raining, snowing, and freezing, too.”