Conway: KHRC Withheld Information on Veitch

Conway: KHRC Withheld Information on Veitch
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
John Veitch

A member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said a key piece of information was withheld from commissioners when they voted last year to suspend former chief state steward John Veitch for a year, and that he would likely have voted differently if he had knowledge of the information.

Commissioner Tom Conway said Feb. 26 he did not learn until well after the Feb. 25, 2012, vote to uphold hearing officer Robert Layton's finding that Veitch had violated four racing regulations in his handling of the Life At Ten matter during the 2010 Breeders' Cup World Championships that a key piece of testimony from the hearing was not provided to commissioners.

In defending his actions just prior to the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I), Veitch said during the hearing he believed veterinarians employed by KHRC had exclusive responsibility for deciding whether to inspect the filly after jockey John Velazquez had told ESPN's Jerry Bailey that Life At Ten was not warming up as she normally does.

Veitch said it was his belief that if he ordered a vet inspection that close to post time, it would have led to an automatic scratch of Life At Ten, as per protocols he believed were in place at the time.

Life At Ten struggled to get around the track during the Ladies' Classic and finished last. Trainer Todd Pletcher later said the filly apparently had an allergic reaction to a legal pre-race medication she was administered.

During Layton's hearing in June 2011, KHRC veterinarian Bryce Peckham disagreed that there was a protocol that called for a scratch in the event of a veterinary inspection prior to post time.

Also during the hearing, Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, testified that in the spring of 2011, Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the KHRC, said during a meeting at Churchill Downs she had erroneously failed to disclose to racing officials prior to the Breeders' Cup that a rule requiring the scratching of any horse examined by the KHRC's vet was not in effect for the World Championships.

Maline said the comment from Scollay came during an April 25, 2011, meeting attended by Scollay and then-KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood in preparation for that year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

Under questioning from Veitch's attorney, Tom Miller, at Layton's hearing, Maline was asked if there was discussion at the pre-Derby meeting about the Life At Ten incident in 2010. "Indirectly, there was," Maline testified.

An attorney for the racing commission called it improper questioning in an attempt to create an issue where Scollay took blame for what occurred. Hearing officer Layton noted the objection but took testimony, saying: "I think you could find 20 witnesses to take responsibility."

Maline said Underwood told horsemen there would be dialogue between the stewards, jockeys, and others before the Derby regarding veterinary protocols. He said he was surprised it would be different than at the 2010 Breeders' Cup.

"At that time Dr. Scollay said, 'I dropped the ball'," Maline testified in reference to the Life At Ten situation.

Conway, an attorney, said the information provided commissioners prior to voting to suspend Veitch, who was fired by the commission without cause in late 2010, did not include Maline's testimony from Layton's hearing.

Conway said he became aware of Maline's testimony only after the subject arose during a lunch conversation. Conway said he would have liked to have had the benefit of Maline's testimony prior to the commission's vote.

"If I had that information, I probably would have acted differently at the commission meeting," Conway said. "I don't think there was any reason to withhold that information from the commissioners. I don't think the hearing officer thought it was relevant. I thought it clouded the issue with me."

Since learning of Maline's testimony to the hearing officer, Conway has met with Veitch and told him of his concerns about the information used by the commission in making its decision. "I think John did a good job as our chief steward, and I wish him well," Conway said.

A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27 in Franklin Circuit Court on a motion by attorney Miller to take Conway's deposition regarding the circumstances surrounding the Veitch vote. In the filing, Miller claims Layton treated Maline's testimony, which is part of the hearing transcript, "as though it did not appear. His name is not mentioned in the findings."

In an affidavit attached to the motion, Veitch said Conway told him "he wanted to set the record straight, which would allow the proceeding to be reopened so that I can be treated fairly by the KHRC." If requested, Conway said he would submit to being deposed by Veitch's legal counsel regarding the Life At Ten vote.

Susan Speckert, general counsel for the KHRC, said it is the commission's policy not to comment on pending litigation. The agency, however, did file a response to the motion Feb. 26.

The KHRC response, filed by attorney Luke Morgan, states Veitch's motion and "his request to go on a discovery fishing expedition should be denied." It alleges Veitch "has demonstrated time and time again his credibility is suspect–from his deceptive comments to KHRC investigators, through his testimony at the hearning, and unsubstantiated statements made to this court."

In addition to continuing to appeal his suspension, Veitch also has an appeal of his dismissal pending before the state personnel board.

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