Hearing Officer Rules Against Veitch
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
John Veitch

A hearing officer has concluded that former Kentucky chief steward John Veitch violated five rules of racing in his handling of the highly publicized Life At Ten incident during the 2010 Breeders’ Cup World Championships and recommended that he be suspended for one year.

The Dec. 14 report from hearing officer Robert Layton is the latest chapter in the lengthy investigation stemming from events surrounding last year's BC Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.

Veitch, the Hall of Fame trainer who oversaw the day-to-day regulation of racing in Kentucky until he was fired Nov. 28, faced charges that included not following regulations--by failing to have Life At Ten inspected by veterinarians prior to the race and by not having the filly sent for a post-race drug test.

"The initial mistake of refusing to contact the veterinarians before the race was gross negligence," Layton wrote. "After the race, Veitch refused to designate Life at Ten for sampling and refused for two days to do an investigation. Veitch’s post-race conduct shows he was aware his original actions were wrong, and shows he was unwilling to investigate the situation around his wrongful actions. The post-race conduct dramatically compounded the error, and greatly increased the harm to the integrity of racing."

In his report, Layton reiterated the events that led to the charges against Veitch and the conflicting testimony presented during a three-day hearing last summer. For the most part, the hearing office questioned Veitch’s credibility when his testimony conflicted with that of other witnesses.

He noted that after a producer for ESPN contacted the stewards’ stand about the possibility of a problem with Life At Ten, Veitch did not follow another steward’s recommendation that they should order a veterinary inspection of the filly to see if she should be scratched.

“When knowing that the jockey of Life At Ten was commenting on her fitness for racing, he failed to exercise his duty to ‘take appropriate action on all misconduct or administrative regulation infractions, to cause investigations to be made of all instances of possible infractions, and to take appropriate action to prevent an administrative regulation infraction.’ He also violated this regulation by failing to send the horse to the detention bam after her poor performance. Mr. Veitch had a duty to investigate whether the horse had been administered a prohibited substance. His failure to send the horse to the detention bam was a breach of this duty,” Layton said.

Layton concluded that because of Veitch’s violations, “the uncertainty over Life at Ten’s performance will never be fully resolved. Such a consequence does not maintain the appearance as well as the fact of complete honesty and integrity of horse racing in the Commonwealth, and must also be considered as a factor in determining the appropriate penalty.”

A spokesman for the commission said the regulatory body would have no comment on Layton’s report and recommendation at this time because the process is still pending.

Veitch’s attorney, Tom Miller, said he was “disappointed that the hearing officer ignored all the facts from many witnesses, including an expert witness who supported Mr. Veitch’s practices. I am also disappointed that he read the regulations as imposing a mandatory duty on a chief steward when the duties apply to all stewards and they are not mandated; they are discretionary.”

Miller said it is probably immaterial what the hearing officer’s report said since it is a recommendation and the commission had already taken action by filing the charges in the first place.

Regardless, Miller said, “We have always thought the final resolution will be in the courts.”

Trained by Todd Pletcher for owner Candy DeBartolo, Life At Ten finished last in the Ladies’ Classic as the 7-2 second choice. With jockey John Velazquez aboard, Life At Ten was not persevered with during the race and had no run.

Prior to the race, while the horses was warming up before entering the starting gate, Velazquez was interviewed by retired jockey Jerry Bailey, who was an analyst commentator on the ESPN Breeders’ Cup coverage.

Velazquez told Bailey that Life At Ten was not warming up as she normally did, but he did not relay those concerns to any steward or veterinarians on the track. This meant that millions of television viewers were aware of the situation, but those in attendance at the track were unaware of any issues with Life At Ten.

An initial investigation on behalf of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission determined that several failures---to have the filly inspected by a vet prior to the race, other procedures related to her running in the race, and how matters were handled following the Ladies’ Classic--were due to miscommunication and lack of protocols in some instances.

The KHRC found probable cause that Velazquez and Veitch had violated some racing regulations in their actions. Velazquez did not admit to any guilt but paid a $10,000 fine, half of which was donated to charity.

Veitch refused to admit violating any rules and fought the charges. That led to a three-day hearing this summer conducted by Layton, who is the chief hearing officer for the Kentucky Office of Administrative Hearings. During the hearing, various witnesses testified about how the Life At Ten incident could have been handled differently.

The KHRC, Breeders’ Cup, and Churchill Downs undertook changes in procedures and protocols related to communication and chain of command prior to this year’s World Championships.

The day after the Ladies’ Classic, Pletcher said Life At Ten apparently had an allergic reaction to a legal medication she was administered prior to the race.

Veitch also testified that he had conflicts with former KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood.

Subsequent to Layton receiving a 30-day extension last month in which to complete his report stemming from the hearing, Veitch was fired without cause by the Public Protection Cabinet, which oversees the KHRC. In its letter to Veitch, the Public Protection Cabinet said as chief steward he was an “unclassified employee” and therefore the state did not have to provide a reason for his dismissal nor could he appeal it.

Veitch has appealed his firing, however, claiming the state had mistakenly said the chief steward position was unclassified; his attorney, Miller said the statutes did not state the position’s status and that his client was therefore a classified employee entitled to a reason for being fired. The appeal also cited the Public Protection Cabinet for dismissing Veitch, 66, because of his age.

The KHRC and Veitch have each spent more than $50,000 in legal costs in connection with the Life At Ten case.

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