A news item in this week's issue of The Blood-Horse helps redefine the Yiddish term chutzpah. It's a story of two Thoroughbred owners and a trainer. The owners claim the trainer arranged to buy and import for them two horses from Europe, billed them for the purchases and subsequent training and veterinary bills. The fact the trainer allegedly took their money and never bought the horses took chutzpah. So did a barn tour the trainer gave to the owners when he allegedly misrepresented two of his stable's other runners as the horses the two owners thought they had purchased in the spring of 1995. The trainer, Southern California-based Frank Monteleone, was sued by the owners after they discovered the horses, Malrome and Musilimieres, never left Europe. Monteleone's assistant, Linda Mikus, was also named in the suit. The owners, Joseph Hirshfeld and Ron Holguin, had become suspicious after two years of "bad luck" prevented the horses from racing. On May 4, a judge in District Court in Clark County, Nev., said she found clear and convincing evidence of fraud and ordered a judgment of $635,000 against Monteleone and Mikus. Just as outrageous as the trainer's alleged fleecing of the two owners is the inaction of the California Horse Racing Board, which has taken no action against Monteleone. The regulatory body has known about the case since 1997, when Hirshfeld and Holguin contacted CHRB investigators asking for help. Investigators looked into it, and, in fact, met with representatives of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to discuss possible criminal charges against Monteleone. Charges were never filed, a CHRB investigator said, because prosecutors felt there was insufficient documentary evidence. The owners never received a bill of sale, but they had nearly two years of training bills, veterinary bills, and transportation bills for Malrome and Musilimieres. The CHRB has all kinds of regulations and issues fines and suspensions on a regular basis on a wide range of infractions. There are rules against smoking in the shedrow and having a loose dog in the barn area. Apparently, the CHRB feels regulations that keep a licensed trainer from defrauding an owner are not important enough to be enforced. John Harris, the current chairman of the CHRB, was not on the board when the initial investigation began in 1997. He said he did not feel comfortable commenting on the case at this time but will conduct a thorough review and believes the CHRB should provide a full report on it. Harris is a major owner and breeder, a member of The Jockey Club, and no doubt understands the possible message the CHRB's inaction against Monteleone sends to other owners. The ranks of California owners have diminished as the economic challenges of participating in the sport have increased in recent years. The state cannot afford to lose additional owners, but the CHRB message in the Monteleone case does little to instill confidence in current or potential owners that the board will protect them in cases of potential fraud. Harold Gewerter, the attorney for Hirshfeld and Holguin, said he had been told the CHRB entered into a secret agreement with Monteleone that essentially took the trainer off the hook if he cooperated with the board on other matters. Speculation is that "other matters" included supplying info about the use of illegal drugs in racing. If true, the agreement is a slap in the face, not just to the two owners, but to every other license holder who must abide by the CHRB's rules and regulations. CHRB executive director Roy C. Wood Jr. was in charge when the Monteleone case first surfaced. If the secret agreement exists, Wood certainly knows about it. However, he has said through a CHRB spokesman he will not comment. Wood doesn't have to speak to the press. But you can bet he's not going to get away with "no comment" when the current CHRB chairman conducts his review.
E-mail Ray Paulick