Relicensing of Valet in Kentucky Raises Questions

Just days after the Kentucky Racing Commission licensed a jockeys' valet whose conviction for a Class D felony is under appeal, Churchill Downs reportedly told him he can't work on racetrack property.

The commission, despite a recommendation by its two-person License Review Panel to deny the license, granted Gus Theodosis, 61, a license so he could return to work as a jockeys' valet. Bernie Hettel, the commission's executive director, and Marc Guilfoil, the director of Standardbred racing, had denied the application as part of their report.

Observers said it is the first time in recent memory a recommendation by the panel has been overturned. State statute allows the commission to deny licenses to anyone convicted of a crime, but the panel does have discretion in such matters.

Seven commissioners who attended the June 25 commission meeting voted to reverse the panel's recommendation, but word is circulating that at least some of them weren't aware Theodosis had been convicted, after lengthy jury deliberation, of sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl. His case is under appeal, his sentence was probated, and he is undergoing counseling, all of which was revealed at the meeting.

During the meeting, it was noted the case involved sexual abuse, but details such as the victim's age weren't discussed. Commissioner Robert Stallings, who handled the cross-examination at the meeting, said he can't believe there is talk some commissioners might not have understood the situation before they voted.

"I can't believe somebody would point that out," said Stallings, who noted: "We did the same thing the circuit court judge did. The circuit judge doesn't probate many cases in this area, and the circuit judge is better versed than the racing commission."

Commissioner Alice Chandler said she wasn't aware of the specifics of Theodosis' conviction when she voted. One other commissioner was said to have been surprised when he learned the details of the case after the vote. Other commissioners could not be reached immediately for comment, nor could chairman Frank Shoop, who did not attend the June 25 meeting.

"There was some fairly strong testimony in favor (of reinstatement of the license)," Chandler said.

Jockey Pat Day appeared as a character witness for Theodosis. "He has always conducted himself in exemplary fashion," Day said of Theodosis, whom he called a friend of about 20 years.

During the meeting, Stallings said Theodosis had his license revoked pending an appeal, and that "numerous things can happen on the trial level."

Commission vice chairman Frank Jones, who presided over the meeting in Shoop's absence, wouldn't comment specifically on the vote but did say the licensing of Theodosis is contingent on the status of his appeal. Jones also said "if the appeal is dropped, it's the same as a conviction."

Commission attorney Bruce Miller noted that a precedent could be set by the commission's vote, but Jones reiterated the commission's decision was rendered "within the confines of an appeal."

When asked if Theodosis is no longer working at the racetrack, Churchill Downs president Alex Waldrop, who attended the commission meeting, said June 28 it is an employee matter and that he couldn't comment on the issue or confirm whether the valet had been asked to leave the premises. Industry insiders, however, said Theodosis had been asked to leave.

In another matter, it is believed the terms of more than half the members of the 11-member commission have expired, though Bill Beam Jr., director of boards and commissions for Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, said June 28 it's not unusual to have expired terms on many state boards.

Beam wouldn't discuss specific racing commission terms that have expired, but he said there is "full utilization of the board."

"Obviously, the governor is pleased with the current lineup of board members," Beam said. "They will continue to serve until a decision is made as to whether they will be reappointed."