04/09/2011 6:13PM

Life at Ten Thousand


The news that John Velazquez was "fined" $10,000 by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission this week for the events surrounding the dreary performance of Life at Ten in the 2010 running of the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic was enough to set a sane man's teeth on edge.

How many ways can you spell "scapegoat"?

Compared to the Uncle Mo bubble that burst for Velazquez in the Wood Memorial, the ten grand is small change. Also, Velazquez apparently took a deal, preferring to end the agony rather than fight tooth and claw to clear his name of any wrongdoing. His transgression was to have informed ESPN on-air talent that Life at Ten didn't seem to be herself, but not to have presented the same observations to an official veterinarian while, in a parallel plot-line, the presiding stewards were informed of the jockey's comments to ESPN, but did not order the official veterinarian to examine the filly.

When the gates opened, the worries of Velasquez came painfully true. Life at Ten was lifeless, and her rider could do nothing more than steer her carefully around the course, bringing her back in one piece. Yes, it looked bad. And folks lost money in the tote. But only the heartless could feel anything less than compassion for Life at Ten that evening at Churchill Downs.

Such sentiments seemed to get lost in a firestorm of post-race protest, though. Gamblers felt robbed, especially given what they learned later, that trainer Todd Pletcher also expressed some concerns about Life at Ten in the paddock, and that afterwards Pletcher suggested Life at Ten had experienced an adverse reaction to the legal diuretic Salix, administered the day of the race. Velazquez took care of the filly, but who took care of the fans?

This might sound strange, but it is possible, having disclosed his lingering doubts to ESPN's Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss, Velazquez felt he'd gotten the information off his chest and on the record. Such is the pervasive -- and perverse -- influence of media communication these days, both personal and commercial. Of course, if Velazquez had serious concerns, his next stop whould have been the starting gate to consult with the official vet. But he didn't. It was the jockey's call and he made it, just as the very best jockeys, like Velazquez, have done for decades.

"I can't tell you how many times I thought a horse was a little quiet going to the gate, like John did that day," said Hall of Famer Gary Stevens. "If I'd scratched them all, I'd have lost a lot of winners, and a whole lot of business. More often than not, whatever might have been bothering them wasn't an issue by the time they left the gate."

Although the circumstances were heightened by the atmosphere of the Breeders' Cup, it was something Jerry Bailey himself had experienced many time before in his Hall of Fame career.

"I rode a horse for Pletcher named Trippi, and most jockeys would have scratched him every time he ran, just because he was so much worse in warm-up than he was going full speed after he left the gate," Bailey said. "There's always the possibility that the horse will actually feel better and be better when he hits full flight."

The Ladies Classic was run on Nov. 5, 2010. This issue was hanging five long months before the Velazquez plea deal came down. Congress moves faster than that. Still to come is a resolution of the complaints against state steward John Veitch, who is lawyered up and continues to serve in his position, currently at Keeneland and soon to be at Churchill Downs. Call me crazy, but if there has been conflicting testimony between steward  Veitch and jockey Velazquez in the KHRC investigation, shouldn't that steward recuse himself from races in which that jockey rides? Like, maybe, the Kentucky Oaks, when the same John Velazquez will be riding favored R Heat Lightning?

Of the $10,000 paid by Velazquez in the settlement, half went to the KHRC and the other half, if you can believe it, was donated to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. While there may be technicalities involved, requiring some token amount be exacted by the commission to make it all official, how about a more humble split, like maybe $9,999 to help jockeys who have been paralyzed in service of racing's bottom line and a robust dollar for a couple of No. 2 racing commission pencils? Velazquez currently serves as chairman of the Jockeys' Guild Board of directors, and it is public record that he already has donated thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in efforts to aid his fellow riders. It is to his credit he got at least a part of this scandalous settlement steered in an honorable direction. 

Nevertheless, the fine goes on his record, in the very year Velazquez could be elected to the Hall of Fame. Bailey described the ruling as "very unfair," but added, "I think John took the very high road. If he wasn't outraged, maybe I shouldn't be outraged."

No, it's okay. Be outraged.


Ted Nugent More than 1 year ago
Why didn't they use the cone snail venom?
john lys More than 1 year ago
I find that ruling a joke. it should be up to the stewards to have informed the vet to look at the horse. I watched on tv the horse warm up. and I heard the comments of JV. I eliminated all wagers on that horse who i thought had a great chance to win. It discusses me the action or lack of action by these stewards in many regards. Its just another black eye on racing. Thank you for continuing to degrade racing. No wonder why casinos in many states have to boost race tracks to keep them afloat.
Liz Kirkland More than 1 year ago
My first thought was, "I sure hope Todd split the fine with Jonny V" as it's obvious to people who know racing that it was a rediculous ruling.Does the public need to see a horse break down or a Jockey hurt to understand these are animals and they can't speak for themselves.If horseman, like John V. and others don't protect them, no one can.
Joel E Blasi More than 1 year ago
My question on this whole thing was where were the stewards when this whole thing was taking place. She was way past being quiet going over, in the paddock and of course on the track. So, there was no blood drawn ordered by the stewards or track vet. after the race. Finnally, someone came up with a article that put it best, "SCAPEGOAT". So this is what you do when you completely drop the ball as a official and the fine is suppose to clear the air on this. Look at all the things that happen on the backside that people get fined for. If a vet. by mistake, gives a wrong med., he is fined and the list goes on and on. If State hired officals drop the ball, they pass the Buck. I trained horses for 41 years and this had to of been one of the worst handled situations that I have ever witnessed.
Dave or Divot80 More than 1 year ago
Five or six months to sort this out - What a complete SHAM and BOGUS decision this turned out to be! The sport of horse racing has taken one GIANT STEP BACKWARDS. Shameful! Our wonderful port is suffering as it is; we don't need a black mark like this. Divot80
cover2 More than 1 year ago
Maybe all of racing should of paid more attention to Bill Hartack, when he refused to ride a horse, in paddock, he wasn't replace, steed was scratched..................
Turnbackthealarm More than 1 year ago
I have been railing against the hypocrisy and injustice of this issue in many forums over the last several months. I find it most interesting that the persons ultimately responsible for the welfare of the horse, Todd Pletcher, and the welfare of the bettor, John Veitch, have thus far received no punishment. Although an avid fan of the sport, the drugs, lax enforcement, insider dealings and otherwise inability of the powers that be to take care of the horses that prevents me from wagering more than a few times per year.....and I read the DRF, Bloodhorse and track results daily. Do you think anyone is really listening???? I suppose we should be grateful that the Jockey Club is recommending a FIVE year phaseout of raceday meds!
ycaza More than 1 year ago
Folks, 10k is about a days pay for John, and if deductible it's half a days pay. Of course he settled. Truth is he is somewhat culpable. He is the one who brought it to our attention that Life At Ten was not acting normal before the race. He could have been a fighter. Here's what he could have done while the whole issue was in the spotlight. Demanded rules be made that any jockey wanting his horse to be scratched for possible health reasons would not be retaliated against by trainer or owners. Demanded the end of all drugs in racing, zero tolerance. Help organize a real jockey union that would demand decent benefits especially for seriously injured jockeys. Demand there be a decent home for every thoroughbred after their racing days are over. The list goes on. Trainers, owners, breeders and jockeys might say they are already doing these things "quietly". I'm not holding my breath. John could have been a fighter. Maybe the money is too good.
George Garrity More than 1 year ago
I have read a great deal surrounding this fiasco. I will freely admit that I am prejudiced, I think Velazquez is a great jockey and great person. This is far and away the best, the fairest, and most accurate assessment of the situation so far. Anybody who says differently is full of horse poop!
ricbee More than 1 year ago
I'll have to take Baily's & Steven's word that JV did all that he felt he had a right to do. If Pletcher said ,"go". What does he know as just the guy on top?