Probe Shows No Use of 'Buzzer' in Travers

Probe Shows No Use of 'Buzzer' in Travers
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Will Take Charge won the 2013 Travers.

An exhaustive investigation by New York regulators and the New York State Police has cleared jockey Luis Saez of allegations that he carried an electronic device when he rode Will Take Charge to victory in the Aug. 24 Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course.

The allegation that Saez used a "buzzer" to shock or jolt the horse was made Aug. 30 by Eric Guillot, trainer of second-place finisher Moreno. It was unsubstantiated, according to a 39-page report released Oct. 4 by the New York Gaming Commission.

Will Take Charge, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, won the 144th running of the Travers Stakes by a nose ahead of Moreno.

On Sept. 21 at Parx Racing, Will Take Charge, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, and Moreno again finished one-two in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II).

The claims, which would have carried potential criminal charges if true, were dismissed after investigators spent weeks going through videos provided by the New York Racing Association and NBC, photographs, searches of the grounds, and interviews with jockeys and other key witnesses.

"The commission's investigation concluded that Mr. Saez was not carrying any sort of electrical device and that Mr. Guillot's allegation was wholly unsubstantiated. This conclusion was reached by the three stewards and the staff of the commission," the NYGC said in its report.

The investigation began after Guillot contacted racing stewards with his complaint. It included seven separate searches of the Saratoga racetrack grounds, including three with a magnetic device, as well as reviews by New York State Police experts of high-definition video provided by NBC.

Guillot did not immediately return an e-mail or calls to his Louisiana stable. In his complaint to the racing board he said that his brother "was here cooking Cajun food'' but recorded the race on his plasma television. When he came home and watched the race, his brother said, "it was obvious the kid had trouble celebrating (because) of black device in right hand switching to left hand and tucking under left shoulder under saddle pad! We feel this has crossed every integrity line of horse racing and would like this investigated and resolved.''

Saez, who was interviewed by the state police Sept. 25, immediately denied any wrongdoing after the claims were made against him. His story was backed up by others, including jockey Jose Lezcano, the rider on third-place finisher Orb   who was interviewed by police Sept. 28.

"There is no credible video evidence of any object in Mr. Saez's hands, apart from his reins and paddled riding crop, at any time during the 2013 Travers Stakes,'' the report said.

The report noted the video footage provided by NBC, including video not aired on television, was of higher quality than the mobile device-shot evidence provided by Guillot to investigators. Searches of the grounds, including the jockeys' room, came up empty, investigators said.

"Mr. Saez rode his horse throughout the race in a manner that indicates that he was not using an electrical or mechanical device on his horse during the Travers Stakes,'' the report concluded.

The report said the horse exhibited no unusual behavior during the race.

Karen Murphy, an Albany, N.Y. area lawyer who represented Saez, said the decision is a "complete vindication'' of her client.

"The charges repeatedly made by Trainer Eric Guillot against this young, outstanding rider are now finally in the history books for what there were from the startbaseless, reckless and false."

In a written statement, Saez said the past six weeks has been "a terrible time for my family and for my professional life. I was confident all along that my named would be cleared as I had done nothing wrong.''

The report noted there had only been three cases of electrical devices found on NYRA grounds in the past 40 years, the most recent in 1986 when a cattle prod was found in a training barn at Aqueduct.

The investigation included extensive reviews of more than 7,000 individual frames of videos at the state police’s forensics unit in Albany, a visual search of the track the morning after Guillot made his initial complaint, and interviews with Saez’s valet and the outrider who met the jockey at the race’s conclusion. The report said there was nothing unusual in the way Saez hands moved after the race and that he was merely transferring his riding crop from one hand to the other.

"He made no furtive motion that suggests that he has any device in his hands," the report said.

Other jockeys in the race who spoke to investigatorsincluding Mike Smith, Javier Castellano, and Moreno jockey Jose Ortizall said they saw nothing unusual before or after the race to suggest any mechanical device was used by Saez. Lezcano told investigators that Saez had ridden a "great race" and he appeared not to immediately know that he had won after crossing the finish line.

That Saez did not immediately raise his arms in victory after the race was a subject of questioning by investigators. In his Sept. 25 interview with state police investigators at Belmont Park, Saez said he did not realize he won until the NBC color commentator, Donnna Barton Brothers, rode over to interview him after the race.

Saez said his right hand was holding the knot and left hand holding the loop of the reins. He told investigators, including one who translated the interview conducted in Spanish, that he has never seen an electrical device before, during, or after a race. The lead investigator, Joel Leveson, an experienced horseman, said Saez’s testimony was consistent with what Leveson saw in the race videos. The involvement of Leveson, the acting director of investigations at the state police, depicted the serious nature by which the allegations were treated.

The initial video supplied to investigators by Guillot, shot by a mobile device of a television recording, appears to show some sort of dark image near Saez’s hands after the race. But the report said video and photographs with far higher resolutions showed no evidence of any mechanical or other device in his hands beyond his riding crop. The video was turned over by NBC to the police Sept. 9.

The report said the Guillot video recording "is not an accurate depiction of the race." The investigation also used photographs provided by Dennis Donohue, a professional photographer who was positioned at the outside of the first turn, to make its findings.

For the full report, see www.gaming.ny.gov/pdf/10.04.13.TraversInvestigation.pdf.

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