Jockey Guild Effort to Recover Purse Called 'Ridiculous'

The head of California's trainer association labeled "ridiculous" a Jockeys' Guild petition seeking payment on a rider's behalf from a trainer whose winning horse was later disqualified because of a positive drug test.

"It's ridiculous," responded Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, when asked for his opinion of the complaint filed by the Guild on behalf of Northern California rider Roberto Gonzalez. "If you had an intentional violation for use of a Class 1 drug, that's one thing. But common sense tells you that this was the type of accidental positive" that is usually out of a trainer's control.

The California Horse Racing Board plans to hear the petition, which named trainer Richard Baltas, who was suspended 15 days and fined $2,500. A horse he trains, Magic Destiny, tested positive for the antihistamines hydroxyzine and cetiritzine in post-race samples taken after winning a race at Bay Meadows on Feb. 24, 2006. The purse, including Gonzalez's share of $600, was ordered redistributed.

The Guild brought the action for the first time under a California jockey welfare law that went into effect at the start of 2006. While the law mostly governs health and workplace safety protections, it also clarifies some issues regarding fees to be paid for riding and exercising horses. It allows the CHRB to permit a jockey to keep his share of the purse "upon a finding that a person, other than the jockey, willfully, and with flagrant disregard for recommended veterinary practice and the regulations of the board, administered the prohibited substance." It directs that payment be made by those deemed responsible. 

Halpern said Baltas was being held responsible under the "trainer insurer rule" but there was no finding of "gross negligence." He said the possibility of a positive post-race test is "part of an implied contract" between the jockey and the trainer. He compared it to an owner or trainer demanding payment from a jockey who was disqualified from a placing because of a riding error.

Gonzalez "is suing for money he presumably wouldn't have won if the horse hadn't had the drugs in his system," Halpern added.

Responding to Halpern's remarks, Guild attorney Barry Broad said, "Ironically, Helpern did not oppose the legislation that he now calls ridiculous. Clearly he believes that drugging horses is not a serious matter but some kind of game of cat and mouse. We feel differently."

Richard Shapiro, chairman of the CHRB, said that, since there is no precedent, he would like the full commission to "act as jury" rather than have a stewards committee or administrative law judge hear the petition, which was filed with Shapiro Jan. 31 and turned over to CHRB staff . No date has been set, although Shapiro said he would like to see "quick justice."

"The owner has an interest, the trainer has an interest, and the jockey has an interest; so I'd like to get everyone and their attorneys in the same room with a hearing officer and hear their arguments," he said.

"I would think that (Gonzalez) would have a very high standard to meet. He's got to prove that somebody did something willfully with a flagrant disregard of the rules."

Guild attorney Barry Broad, in the petition, called Gonzalez an "innocent victim" who "should not forfeit his share of the purse." The Guild seeks recovery from Baltas.

CHRB spokesman Mike Marten said there were 60 purse redistributions ordered from January 2005 through the end of last year in all of California, including harness and Quarter Horse racing, due to violations of Class 1, 2 or 3 substance rules.