Updated on 03/15/2011 2:30PM

Life At Ten case may result in sanctions

Alysse Jacobs
Life At Ten trails the field in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved motions Thursday for findings of probable cause to charge jockey John Velazquez and chief state steward John Veitch with violations of racing rules in connection with the Life At Ten incident in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.

Velazquez was cited for three possible violations while Veitch was cited for five. Both face hearings to determine if the commission will seek penalties.

The findings arose from a comprehensive report prepared by the commission and a state inspector on the circumstances of Life At Ten’s poor performance during the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on Nov. 5, 2010, at Churchill Downs. Life At Ten, the second betting choice, was never pressed in the race by Velazquez, who had said during a post parade television interview with Jerry Bailey, the former jockey and an ESPN broadcast analyst, that Life At Ten was “not warming up the way she normally does.” The horse finished last and never was in contact with the field.

The pre-race comments by Velazquez, and similar televised comments from Life At Ten’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, raised questions from the media, fans, and the filly’s owner, Candy DeBartolo, about whether the horse should have been scratched. Approximately $1 million was bet on the filly in straight and exotic wagers, and DeBartolo spent $60,000 to enter the horse. The money would have been refunded if stewards scratched the horse, but not if the trainer withdrew the horse.

Veitch declined to comment about the potential violations after the commission meeting on Thursday at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Lisa Underwood, the commission’s executive director, said that Veitch will remain the state’s chief steward as the hearing process goes forward.

The commission deliberated over the report’s findings in private for two and a half hours before approving the probable-cause motions. Underwood and other commissioners declined to comment on the deliberations.

The report said that there was no evidence of intentional wrongdoing or nefarious or fraudulent activity surrounding Life At Ten’s performance or betting on the race.

Staff of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission declined to comment on why the commission had cited the eight specific statutes under which Velazquez and Veitch will be presented with charges.

In Velazquez’s case, the first statute pertains to a failure by a rider to “to fulfill engagements.” The second pertains to a rider’s responsibility to ride a horse to the finish. The third pertains to a jockey’s obligation to engage in conduct “that is in the best interest of racing.”

In Veitch’s case, the first statute pertains to a steward’s responsibility to “take appropriate action” in the case of potential misconduct. The second involves a steward’s responsibility to supervise entries. The third states that stewards shall not allow a horse to be entered or raced who “is not in serviceable, sound racing condition.” The fourth pertains to the responsibility of stewards to “take cognizance of any marked reversal of form.” The fifth pertains to sample-collection procedures.

Investigators interviewed nearly 100 individuals for the report, including all of the veterinarians on call that day at Churchill Downs and all of the individuals who had contact with Life At Ten in the days leading up to the race and after it. Most of the report focuses on the condition of Life At Ten before the race and whether there was consensus on whether the horse was physically able to race.

On that point, veterinarians, outriders, and Life At Ten’s handlers seemed to disagree. Some people claimed that Life At Ten appeared to be “tying up,” but others said that the filly seemed normal. Tying up has different meanings to different people and can descibe cramping or muscle soreness. Among at least a dozen people who said that they had watched the horse at some point from the paddock to the starting gate, only one person interviewed in the report said that they felt Life At Ten was showing any indication of lameness.

“The KHRC veterinarians did not observe anything, nor did they receive any information, that caused them to question [Life At Ten’s] fitness to race,” the report said.

The report outlines a series of communications among stewards, media representatives, and veterinarians in which no veterinarian recalled being told to examine Life At Ten specifically after Velazquez had made his comments to ESPN, despite a phone call placed by Amy Zimmerman, a producer for ESPN, to the steward’s booth about Velazquez’s comments.

According to the report, Dr. Bryce Peckham, the state veterinarian, told investigators: “In hindsight, had we known a jockey was concerned with an individual horse, one of us would have gone to the jockey to inquire.” Peckham said that if Velazquez had alerted the veterinarians, “we would have recommended to the stewards she be scratched from the race.”

The report said that the commission tested all of the pre-race blood samples taken from Pletcher-trained horses entered in the Breeders’ Cup, along with all of the syringes used to administer Lasix to his horses before the races, and none tested positive for a prohibited substance. However, stewards did not order post-race blood and urine samples from Life At Ten despite her poor performance, a decision that appeared to result in Veitch’s being found in possible violation of the state’s rules on ordering post-race samples. Life At Ten’s pre-race blood sample was tested and came up negative.

According to the report, Life At Ten was examined prior to the post parade by Dr. Michael Hardy, a commission veterinarian. Hardy told investigators that “Life At Ten did not display any clinically significant findings while walking to the paddock.” The report further states that no veterinarians were made aware of any concerns about Life At Ten’s condition prior to the race.

After the race, Dr. Foster Northrup, a Kentucky veterinarian and racing commission member, watched Life At Ten as she walked back to the barn. Northrup, who was acting as the American Association of Equine Practitioners’s “on-call” vet on the backside, said that “she did not look distressed or uncomfortable or lame,” according to the report. “She looked like a normal horse walking to me.”

The day after the race, Pletcher asked veterinarians to run blood tests on Life At Ten, according to the report, and those tests indicated that the filly had an abnormally high white-blood cell count. According to the report, Dr. Ken Reed, a private veterinarian who treated Life At Ten, said that the blood tests indicated that the filly may have been fighting an infection. “She was probably sick going into the race and we didn’t realize it, and that’s what I told [Pletcher].”

In summary, the report states that there were very few violations of specific rules relating to the incident, but a “failure of common sense to prevail,” while recommending that racing officials better coordinate communications so that any concerns about a horse’s well-being are relayed to the appropriate personnel.

“Many of the participants seemed to be waiting for someone else to take action,” the report stated.
The report also recommended that racing groups should consider “weighing benefits of post-parade jockey interviews versus the duty of the KHRC to protect the safety and integrity of the sport.”

The report also recommended that the commission consider finding probable cause for violations by Pletcher under two rules pertaining to a trainer's responsibilities to his horses. But the commission did not offer any motions regarding Pletcher during the public portion of the meeting.

:: View the entire Kentucky Racing Commission report | Summary and Recommendations