04/11/2005 12:00AM

Controversy surrounds Sweet Catomine, owner

Email
Horsephotos
Sweet Catomine (second from left) had physical problems coming into the Santa Anita Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. - In the aftermath of Sweet Catomine's fifth-place finish as the favorite in the last Saturday, her owner and trainer have split, and the California Horse Racing Board has filed a complaint against owner Marty Wygod for alleged violations of three racing board rules.

The board alleges Wygod and van driver Dean Kerkhoff knowingly falsified paperwork to transport Sweet Catomine from Santa Anita to a clinic for 48 hours, a violation of a rule requiring proper identification of horses entering or leaving the track. Wygod also is being cited for a catch-all rule, "conduct detrimental to horse racing," for his comments regarding Sweet Catomine before and after the race. In addition, the board alleged that both Wygod and Kerkhoff violated CHRB Rule 1489 (grounds for denial or refusal of license).

According to a racing board release sent out late Monday, a hearing with Wygod and Kerkhoff, who works for Racehorse Transport, will be held on April 23 at Hollywood Park.

In his report, board senior special investigator Christopher Loop wrote that "records of departure and arrival were deliberately falsified to conceal the true identity and activities of the horse Sweet Catomine."

Loop's report alleges that Wygod made "material misrepresentation and false statements to the board and its agents."

"The assertion was made in public forum that his horse was fit to run," the report stated. "However, Wygod deemed the horse would benefit from a significant therapeutic process" - referring to the time at the clinic - "requiring the horse to be transferred from the grounds. This was not discussed in the same forum, and as such, was both false and deceptive."

Loop's report also said that Wygod engaged in conduct "detrimental to the best interests of horse racing."

"The perception of the betting public was that they were wagering upon reliable information, which was widely broadcast," the report stated. "The information concerning the true condition of the horse was not complete, or factual, in its presentation."

Controversy swirled around Sweet Catomine immediately following the Santa Anita Derby when Wygod, who owns Sweet Catomine with his wife, Pam, came to the press box and said Sweet Catomine had had several medical issues in the days leading up to the race, none of which was revealed by Wygod or trainer Julio Canani despite having the opportunity in numerous media briefings throughout the week.

On Monday, Wygod transferred Sweet Catomine and six other horses from Canani to John Shirreffs, Wygod said.

On Saturday night, Canani, who trained Sweet Catomine to an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly last year, had said he was going to quit Wygod.

"I'm telling him to take his horses," Canani said.

Sweet Catomine's condition became a cause celebre in sports media outlets in Southern California, and the racing board, under the supervision of executive director Ingrid Fermin, conducted a review on Sunday and Monday, and filed a formal complaint Monday afternoon.

Wygod after the Santa Anita Derby said Sweet Catomine had bled in a workout on April 3 and had spent the next 48 hours at the Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic in Santa Ynez, Calif., where "she was treated with oxygen," Wygod said. Alamo Pintado has a hyperbaric chamber that can be used for pulmonary rehabilitation. Wygod also said that Sweet Catomine had come into heat on Wednesday.

The board's complaint alleges that in-and-out slips that are required to be signed when horses leave the grounds or return were falsified during that time. It alleges that Sweet Catomine was signed out as a "pony" when she left the grounds at 3:15 a.m. on April 4 and again when she returned at 8:29 p.m. April 5.

On April 3, following the workout in which Wygod said Sweet Catomine bled, Canani told a Santa Anita publicist that Sweet Catomine was "as good as she can come [into a race]."

On April 5, Canani and Wygod were on a teleconference conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Three times during that teleconference, Canani said Sweet Catomine was "doing great," and another time he said she was "training super." Wygod, a hands-on owner who is frequently at the barn, did not correct his trainer. During the same press conference, Wygod said Sweet Catomine "looks fantastic."

Santa Anita held its own press conference last Wednesday morning following the draw for post positions for the Santa Anita Derby. Again, neither Canani nor Wygod revealed Sweet Catomine's condition, despite being asked about how the filly was doing.

Wygod said that he did not reveal Sweet Catomine's issues before the race because he was never asked "specific questions" about the filly's condition.

"We never would have run if we didn't think she would win," Wygod added.

Wygod said that on Wednesday morning he informed Ron Charles, the West Coast head of Magna Entertainment, that "it was 50-50 that she would run."

"I just told him to do what's right for the filly," Charles said. "If you're not going to run, let us know."

Asked if he thought the track had an obligation to inform the public as to Sweet Catomine's pre-race condition, Charles said, "Julio and Marty are the ones who should be making that call. That decision, and the decision to run, was theirs."

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen