Trainer Peter Miller was fined $2,500 and suspended seven days by the California Horse Racing Board's board of stewards at Santa Anita Park March 18 for an incident that involved "derogatory words about a licensee's unborn baby" Sept. 11 at San Luis Rey Training Center.
The ruling from the Santa Anita stewards said the suspension is to be served from April 2-8. The ruling also said Miller has been placed on probation for the term of his training license, which expires in October of 2019. A term of the probation is "to adhere to (the) recommendation of the Winners Foundation regarding anger-management education."
The stewards said Sunday the incident was Miller's seventh offense related to "disorderly conduct" since 2008, and the sanctions were warranted because of that and the severity of the incident.
According to a document filed to CHRB investigators by a former Miller assistant, Stephanie Murray, Miller accused her of "stealing" his staff at San Luis Rey during training hours Sept. 11 and then began to berate Murray about her physical appearance and her family. Murray had worked for Miller for three years before she began working for trainer Doug O'Neill.
"Miller then continued to belittle and harass me on a deeply personal level, regarding my appearance, my skill as a horseman, my child that is expected to be born (Dec. 1), and my husband," Murray wrote.
Trainer Adam Kitchingman witnessed the incident and intervened. Kitchingman was one of four witnesses who testified in front of the stewards, but the only one who did so willingly. Three others—Murray, exercise rider Paul Roberts, and San Luis Rey clocker Amanda Guthrie—needed to be subpoenaed to testify in front of the stewards.
"The stuff that he said—it was disgusting," Kitchingman said. "I don't even want to repeat what he said. Pete Miller has always been abusive to his staff. This isn't new. I was the only person to step up to him and tell him to shut up—not to talk to a girl that way. I don't want to make myself out as some sort of hero, but nobody should be talked to that way."
According to Murray's statement, the trainer continued to "belittle" her, despite Kitchingman's intervention, with several explicit phrases listed.
The stewards said the witness testimony backed up Murray's account. They also noted Miller had a hearing on the matter scheduled for March 12, but the trainer didn't show up.
"The hearing had been (delayed) twice—once at the request of the CHRB, who wanted to subpoena their witnesses, and then the second time was by Miller and his attorney, who asked for the second continuance," said steward Scott Chaney. "They were well aware of the (hearing) date."
Miller said Sunday he was "never notified of the hearing" and called the ruling "very incomplete and one-sided."
"This is less about me than it is about the stewards and the CHRB retaliating for my outspokenness against them," Miller said.
Miller also said the CHRB proceeded with an investigation against him even after Murray dropped her complaint, and he accused Murray of being in his barn after she left his employ. Murray and the stewards confirmed the complaint was dropped, but that the CHRB proceeded with seeking penalties anyway.
"I was never interviewed by investigators (and) the girl dropped her complaint months ago," Miller said. "The CHRB went forward against her wishes. She was caught in my shedrow against CHRB rules. We were both wrong and apologized to each other. We are friendly again."
Murray denied being in Miller's barn without authorization.
"Since my last day of work, the only time I set foot in Mr. Miller's barn was to pick up a bag of my helmets and vest that I had left in the office," she wrote in September. "I was accompanied by his assistant at the time, Amanda Ropar, and was in and out in less than one minute. Other than that, Mr. Miller's accusations are completely delusional and false."
Murray also said Sunday she pulled her complaint because, when the horses based at San Luis Rey were relocated to Del Mar after a devastating fire at the facility in December, her barn was right next to Miller's and she wanted to avoid further conflict.
"I wanted to keep a good relationship with him, considering we were stabled next to each other at Del Mar and we have to see each other every day," Murray said. "That's another reason people hate to speak up and stand up against people like him. Sometimes it's just easier to move on than it is to take somebody to the stewards and have to walk by them every morning, knowing they're filled with nothing but hostility toward you."
Murray also said the behavior during the incident in September was not out of the ordinary for Miller.
"(It's not just the way he treats) his staff, but other people in the industry," Murray said. "I've seen him and the paddock judge exchange words a few times. The worst part is, people are afraid to speak up because of how it might make them look. Nobody wants to be seen as a weak person who tattles every time their feelings get hurt."