Hearing Sheds Light on TRPB Investigation, Jockey Bans

The transcript from a recent hearing before a judge appointed by the Illinois Racing Board brought new details to light concerning the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau’s investigation of 10 jockeys banned last December from Florida and Pennsylvania tracks for alleged race-fixing.

Jockey Terry Houghton, appealing his recent exclusion from Arlington Park, is one of seven riders banned from Tampa Bay Downs Dec. 19 when track management was contacted by the TRPB regarding an ongoing independent investigation that parallels one organized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning suspicious wagering patterns.

Houghton, with other jockeys, was questioned by the FBI regarding his involvement in several races run in 2006. The TRPB investigation focuses in particular on three of those races; the sixth at Tampa Bay on April 10, the third at Great Lakes Downs on Aug. 26, and the fourth at Great Lakes on Sept. 5. In each race, the horse ridden by Houghton was left out of scrutinized wagers placed off-site from Michigan and Delaware. 

“There was a systematic exclusion throughout the betting pattern of a particular betting interest,” said TRPB wagering analyst Jerry Curtis Linnell, who completed the analysis of the three races in question.

“The analysis had produced…substantial and compelling evidence that these jockeys were involved in the fixing of races,” attorney Shawn Wood said on behalf of Churchill Downs Inc. and Arlington Park.

According to the transcript, the TRPB met with representatives of CDI March 29 to present information on the investigation. At that time, said CDI vice president Steve Sexton, a review of data linked to the wagering patterns led officials to believe Houghton improperly influenced the outcome of the races in question.

“We take the integrity of racing very seriously and (don’t want) any chance that there would be someone racing at our tracks (who) may call into question the integrity of the honesty of racing at our operations,” Sexton said. “I made an independent conclusion based on the review of the data that was presented to us and subsequent discussions after the TRPB meeting between myself and (Churchill general manager) Jim Gates."

Houghton moved his tack to Hawthorne Race Course in February and planned to follow that meet by accepting mounts at Arlington when the spring meet opened May 5, but was told he would be excluded from all tracks owned by CDI, including Arlington. Under Illinois law, licensees who are to be excluded from a racetrack are afforded a right to due process, and a hearing must occur seven days after a notice of appeal has been filed by the plaintiff.

During the Illinois hearing, the TRPB was unable to produce material evidence that expressly implicates Houghton in the fixing of races. Though Houghton voluntarily submitted to a polygraph test that he made available to the TRPB and the FBI, neither organization has made use of that material.

According to TRPB president Frank Fabian, no cell phone records have been secured to connect Houghton with anyone who wagered on the races in question, nor has there been an investigation into Houghton’s bank records to search for unusual deposits.

“I have no information that (Houghton) received money for (holding back) a horse,” Fabian said.

“Do you have any information that he was paid any money to not do the best on a horse?” asked Art Engelland, Houghton’s attorney.

“I do not have that information, no,” Fabian said.

The TRPB also went against the opinion of the Michigan Racing Commission and stewards who reviewed the films of the races in question and found no suspicious activities on Houghton’s part, according to the transcript of the hearing. (It was initially reported here that it was the Minnesota Racing Commission, which was incorrect.)

“The fact that Churchill Downs chose to move against Terry is a slap in the face of every racing commissioner in the country,” Engelland told The Blood-Horse. “Protecting the integrity of racing is the state commission’s job. A racetrack should never move on guesswork. In this TRPB investigation, no one ever talked to the trainers of any horses, never talked to the vets or grooms, never looked at the PPs to see if a race was out of line on a Beyer (speed figure) basis...they’re going on pure speculation and supposition.”

“If these guys were doing a thorough investigation, why not check into my bank records and try to find some kind of proof of me accepting money from these guys?” Houghton said in an interview with The Blood-Horse. “I said they can check anything and everything of mine. I’ve got nothing to hide, I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Houghton’s attorney said the Illinois commission would notify him of its ruling in June. The jockey said he would pursue legal action with a seven-count civil suit if he is prohibited from riding at Arlington. In the meantime, Houghton will ride in Indiana. He is currently based at Indiana Downs.