Bettors' Suit Over Sweet Catomine Dismissed

A lawsuit filed on behalf of those who wagered on Sweet Catomine in last April's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) was dismissed by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge last week.

The plaintiffs in the class action case sought damages, contending that the public was defrauded by the filly's owner and trainer, Martin and Pam Wygod and Julio Canani, as well as the Los Angeles Turf Club and Santa Anita Park for failure to disclose physical problems with Sweet Catomine. Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl, after hearing a pre-trial motion from LATC attorneys Sept. 21, ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the track was liable. Her decision was issued Dec. 23.

The Wygods and Canani were dropped as defendants in the case earlier, following a CHRB hearing that cleared the owners of wrongdoing. Barring an appeal, Kuhl's ruling brings the suit to an end.

Frank DeMarco Jr., Santa Anita's attorney, was happy with the ruling.

"(California Horse Racing Board) rules say that the trainer merits the final say on whether a horse is fit and should run," De Marco said. "There was nothing brought in the complaint that set up a cause of action against Santa Anita. In other words, even if everything they said in the complaint was true, they hadn't shown that the track was responsible.

"The ruling upholds a longstanding public policy in California that (the court) doesn't interfere with the outcome of sporting events," he added.

Sweet Catomine ran fifth in the race as the even-money favorite on April 9. In post-race remarks, Wygod said he had considered scratching Sweet Catomine because she had bled in her final workout and was in season. Wygod also said he told Santa Anita officials the filly might be scratched.

Wygod disclosed that five days before the race, Sweet Catomine was shipped from the Santa Anita backstretch in the early-morning hours to the Alamo Pintado equine medical clinic several hours north of the Los Angeles area. She was treated in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber at the clinic. It was later learned that Sweet Catomine was identified to Santa Anita gate security personnel as a "stable pony" when she left and returned to the track by horse van the following day.

The comments sparked the CHRB's investigation. Hollywood Park stewards dismissed all charges against Wygod stemming from his remarks April 23. The CHRB dropped a similar complaint against Canani prior to a hearing, with the agency's executive director Ingrid Fermin saying that the probe into the Sweet Catomine affair was a "faulty procedure."

Attorney Stephen Bernard, who represented the two bettors, Arthur G. Mota and Reid Wissner, who filed the action, could not be reached for comment regarding any possible appeal.

Sweet Catomine, whose five-race winning streak ended in the Santa Anita Derby, never raced again. Wygod retired the homebred daughter of Storm Cat shortly after the stewards' hearing with a leg injury. She won five of her seven starts, including three grade I races – the Del Mar Debutante, Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Santa Anita Oaks – and earned $1,059,600.