Attorney Challenges Fermin Deposition

A lawyer for prominent racehorse owner and breeder Martin Wygod wants to question the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board May 10 in connection with the flawed Sweet Catomine investigation. But an attorney for the plaintiff in the pending civil case against Wygod said Thursday that he'll go to court the day before to stop the deposition going forward.

"Wygod and his attorney (Richard Kendall) are essentially trying to take over our case," said attorney Stephen Bernard, who filed a Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit April 18 against defendants Wygod, trainer Julio Canani, the Los Angeles Turf Club and others. "It's great (public relations) to take the pressure off (Wygod) and to put it on the (CHRB) investigation. Wygod's trying to change the texture and get away from the real issue."

The lawsuit, which could become a class action complaint, alleges fraud and unfair business practices against the defendants on behalf of those who wagered on Sweet Catomine, who finished fifth as the even-money favorite in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 9.

Post-race comments by Wygod called the champion filly's physical condition prior to the race into question and led to an investigation by the CHRB. Hollywood Park stewards dismissed all charges against Wygod stemming from those remarks April 23. The CHRB dropped a similar complaint against Canani prior to a hearing, with CHRB executive director Ingrid Fermin saying that the probe into the Sweet Catomine affair was a "faulty procedure."

The suit stems from the fact bettors were not informed beforehand that Sweet Catomine had bled internally in her last workout prior to the race and that she had a bad hoof. Bernard contends as much as $1.7 million was wagered nationally on her.

Bernard, acting on behalf of plaintiff Arthur Mota, wants the Wygod deposition of Fermin postponed because it is premature. He said he plans to file an amended complaint late next week and noted that the defendants in the case have never been properly served. He also said he has the right to first depose those connected to the lawsuit, including Fermin and Wygod.

"Wygod has never had to answer any questions about his actions ... we intend to ask him those questions."

He said he suspects that Kendall is moving so quickly because Wygod is planning to sue the CHRB, adding, "I don't blame him. The investigation was pretty inept. When the first thing your first witness, the main investigator, says at the hearing is that he wished he had more time to do a thorough investigation, you know you are in trouble.

"They had a very weak prosecutor, and they ran around him," he said of the deputy attorney general who represented the CHRB, James Ahern. 

Kendall could not be reached for comment. Wygod, who in published comments has contended the CHRB conspired against him, backed off that position slightly during a brief phone interview May 4.

"Conspiracy isn't the right word," he said. "But there was a motivation here to go after one of the biggest owners in the state, and we want to know where it came from."

He said they have subpoenaed Fermin's e-mails and her telephone records. "We have the right to subpoena anything we want to," he said.

Fermin did not return a phone inquiry, but through a CHRB spokesman, she said she had received Wygod's subpoena and intends to appear for her deposition.

Wygod retired the homebred Sweet Catomine, whose five-race winning streak ended in the Santa Anita Derby, shortly after the stewards' hearing, saying she had an injury to her left rear leg. The 3-year-old filly is to be bred to A.P. Indy.