02/09/2011 6:33PM

Inquiry into Life At Ten's Breeders' Cup performance continues


LEXINGTON, Ky. - A probe by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission into the circumstances surrounding the poor performance of Life At Ten in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 remains ongoing, the commission's executive director said at a meeting on Wednesday.

Investigators for the commission and the state's Inspector General's office have interviewed 89 people in the probe, which has focused on whether or not Life At Ten, the second choice in the Ladies' Classic, should have been scratched, according to the executive director, Lisa Underwood. The commission expects to release a formal report containing recommendations about how to address any similar situations, Underwood said, but she did not provide a date for when the report would be released.

"We believe the recommendations will be helpful to the industry as a whole," Underwood said. "We are working as quickly as we can."

Life At Ten finished last in the Classic after her jockey, John Velazquez, and her trainer, Todd Pletcher, separately made comments to television reporters that she had seemed listless in the paddock and was failing to warm up properly in the post parade. Velazquez did not urge Life At Ten to run after the gates were opened.

Following the race, the filly's owner, Candy DeBartolo, criticized stewards at Churchill Downs for failing to scratch the horse. Kentucky's chief steward, John Veitch, said that neither Pletcher nor Velazquez notified either the stewards or track veterinarians about their concerns.

Bettors wagered more than $1 million on Life At Ten in the Ladies' Classic, which was run as the last race on the Friday Breeders' Cup card.

In the days following the race, Pletcher said the filly spiked a fever and had a high white blood-cell count, which is a typical indication of infection.

The commission launched the formal investigation two months ago, but its officials have declined to comment on any findings until the report has been released. The state's Inspector General was brought in to participate in the probe to address concerns about any conflicts of interest, considering that Veitch is an employee of the commission.

Raise in mount fees approved

In other news from the commission meeting, the commission approved an across-the-board increase in mount fees for jockeys at Kentucky racetracks, but not without several commissioners expressing their reservations about the bump.

Under the new scale, which was negotiated between a committee of the racing commission and the Jockeys' Guild, losing mount fees will range from $60 to $120. Under the previous scale, losing mount fees ranged from $45 to $105.

Tom Ludt, a commissioner member who is the president of the breeding and racing operation Vinery, criticized the move to increase the fees at a time when the rest of the racing industry is struggling to make ends meet.

"I'm sympathetic to the jockeys, but the timing is terrible," Ludt said. Ludt voted against the increase, along with Foster Northrup, a racetrack veterinarian, and Alan Leavitt, a Standardbred owner and breeder.

Mindy Coleman, the legal counsel for the Jockeys' Guild, said that mount fees in Kentucky have not increased since 2001, and that jockeys had not received an increase in mount fees before that since 1985. Coleman also said that the rates in Kentucky were lower than in neighboring states. The guild has been pressing for increases in mount fees in many states for the past two years.

* The commission also voted unanimously to approve a request by Keeneland Racecourse to offer a pick five during its upcoming spring meet. The pick five will replace the track's pick six, and have a 50-cent minimum.

Rogers Beasley, Keeneland's director of racing, said that the pick six offered by Keeneland had attracted only about $10,000 in wagers each day. He said that pick five bets that had been offered recently in New Jersey and Florida attracted $150,000 to $200,000 each day.

"Anything above $10,000 would probably be all right to us," Beasley said.

* Robert Elliston, the president of Turfway Park, told commissioners at the meeting that fatalities at Turfway have averaged 1.2 horses per 1,000 starts since the track installed a synthetic main surface five years ago, roughly half the national average of 2.2 horses per 1,000 starts.

Elliston asked to speak after Northrup brought attention to the low number of fatalities being suffered by horses at Turfway, which had a less-than-ideal reputation for safe racing before the installation of the synthetic surface.

Turfway is currently in the midst of its winter-spring meeting. The synthetic surface it installed is manufactured by a partnership that includes Keeneland, which is a part owner of Turfway.