09/07/2012 3:03PM

"Equine Regulatory Law" provides meticiulous reference work, entertaining historical anecdotes


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Bob Heleringer had been asking for years whether anyone knew of a comprehensive book on equine regulatory law.

Nobody knew of one, so Heleringer set out to write one, and seven years later, the result is “Equine Regulatory Law,” a tome of more than 900 pages that serves a number of very useful functions, not only as a meticulously researched reference book for regulators and litigators, but also as a fascinating read for historians and fans.

Not surprisingly, the book sometimes bogs down in the legalese of court law, but the best parts are when Heleringer gets into the details of some of the most famous legal cases in racing history, most notably a chapter devoted entirely to the four-year saga involving Peter Fuller and the disqualification of his 1968 Kentucky Derby winner, Dancer’s Image. There also is a chapter on cases that evolved into the “absolute insurer rule,” which remains in place in every racing jurisdiction in America today, and one on the excruciating history of the infamous dates wars pitting Hialeah against Gulfstream Park.

The tale of the 1968 Derby is told in a sympathetic way in regard to Fuller, a Boston sportsman and car dealer who died last May at age 89. Yet it also balances its judgments while heralding the landmark case as one with “enormous consequences for racing’s Achilles’ heel, its capacity for compromised integrity.”

While Heleringer occasionally delves into cases about Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing, the Thoroughbred game remains his primary focus. A 71-year-old practicing attorney, former state legislator, and lecturer in the equine business program at the University of Louisville, Heleringer is the grandson of Leo O’Donnell, a co-founder of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and longtime steward on the Kentucky circuit. O’Donnell, who died in 1993, is one of four equine law “giants” to whom the book is dedicated, with the others being Ned Bonnie, Kent Hollingsworth, and Riley Grannan.

The book is not at all Kentucky-centric, with dozens of cases cited from throughout the American racing landscape, from the old New York and California tracks to tiny ovals that hardly anyone has ever heard of. Cases involving many famous (and infamous) racing personalities such as Tom Smith (of Seabiscuit fame), Bob Baffert, Angel Cordero Jr., and Billy Patin (who carried the electrical device in the 1999 Arkansas Derby) also are examined.

The various aspects of case law explored and discussed are plentiful: due process, property exclusions, medication violations, advertising rights, tort law, and more. An extensive post-script of tables, footnotes, and indices, with attributions granted and photographs obtained from Daily Racing Form, The Blood-Horse, and major mainstream publications, all serve as testament to the thoroughness with which Heleringer went about the project.

One of the many anecdotal cases in the book revisits the infamous Allumeuse case at Saratoga. With the Daily Racing Form chart of the subject race of Aug. 2, 1986, accompanying the narrative, Heleringer explains how aggrieved bettors attempted to collect their rightful payoffs on Allumeuse, a 7-1 winner whom was “mistakenly disqualified” and placed last, as the New York Racing Association stewards quickly conceded (and the chart plainly states, in a real rarity).

Although the purse was redistributed with Allumeuse as the winner, fans seeking redress for the error were rebuffed, with a New York appellate court denying their claims. Heleringer, having written a few pages beforehand about a somewhat similar blunder by the stewards at decrepit Miles Park in Louisville, writes (with an apparent smile on his face): “This is the only time the reader will ever see these words in print: Saratoga should have followed Miles Park’s example, swallowed its pride – and some of its profit – and issued massive giveaways of free food, drink, tee shirts, admissions, monogrammed slide rules, anything to try to atone for its egregious mistake. Such a good-faith gesture may not have stopped the lawsuits (which NYRA could not have lost if it tried), but would have salvaged a great deal of the more important good will and customer loyalty lost in the fiasco.”

In his foreword, Heleringer writes: “I also hope that readers will, at times, be amused or entertained . . . There are no dull days working at a racetrack, and the same can be said about the controversies and imbroglios – even the comic farces – that sometimes end up on the pages of an opinion from a state’s highest appellate court.”

“Equine Regulatory Law” sells for $89.95 plus shipping and other costs. Further information is available on the book website, equineregulatorylaw.com.

A number of testimonials to the book are on the website, including those of former Kentucky Gov. Brereton C. Jones and Bernie Hettel, a longtime racing official in Kentucky, Florida, and now Virginia.