Updated on 05/02/2016 11:54AM

Maryland Racing Commission won't review Vitali's license


The Maryland Racing Commission does not plan to conduct a review of the training license of Marcus Vitali despite reports that the trainer surrendered his license in Florida in exchange for having pending medication violations dropped, the head of the commission said on Monday.

J. Mike Hopkins, the commission’s executive director, said that Vitali is still in good standing in Maryland because the Florida charges were dropped and no penalties for the alleged violations were issued.

“As far as we’re concerned, the charges were dismissed,” Hopkins said.

Facing seven possible medication violations going back to October, Vitali surrendered his Florida license in April and then moved his 35-horse stable to Laurel Park in Maryland. The maneuver, which was first reported by the Paulick Report, an online racing publication, has raised questions about reciprocity, a policy widely practiced by racing commissions in which a ruling in one jurisdiction is recognized by other jurisdictions.

Vitali’s maneuver, which was recommended by his lawyer, falls into a gray area in racing regulation. If his license was denied in Florida rather than surrendered, then Maryland and other racing jurisdictions likely would also refuse to issue a license. But because the license was surrendered without any penalties, commissions do not have solid legal standing to take action, according to Ed Martin, the president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella group for racing jurisdictions.

However, Martin said racing commissions are free to initiate a license review of any licensee to determine if circumstances surrounding the license may affect the “suitability” of the licensee to participate in racing.

“It gets a little complicated when someone withdraws a license,” Martin said. “We do strongly advise that commissions conduct a license review and look at the rap sheet and make a determination about licensing when the license comes up for renewal.”

Martin said the RCI’s licensee database would have flagged Vitali’s license if it was denied. The database is used by state racing commissions to determine suitability for licensing.

Hopkins, of the Maryland commission, said that Vitali had a valid license when he arrived in Maryland.

Vitali is among dozens of trainers facing medication violations in Florida, where the state began enforcing new therapeutic medication rules at the start of the year. While trainers have said the violations are due in part to new testing conducted by the state’s lab, trainers and other officials have acknowledged that trainers may have failed to adjust their medication regimens under the new regulations, which place tighter restrictions on the use of many therapeutic drugs, such as painkillers and corticosteroids.

Vitali’s case has lent new weight to a movement calling for national oversight of racing through a federally appointed overseer. Supporters of the movement, which is embodied in a bill that was introduced last year in Congress, have argued that a national overseer would have prevented Vitali from surrendering his license in one jurisdiction so that he could operate in another.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, stopped taking entries from Vitali last weekend after reports surfaced of his maneuver, according to Sal Sinatra, the president of the MJC. Racetracks have wide latitude in determining whether a licensee can participate in their track’s races, under a legal principle allowing private companies to bar licensees who could pose a threat to their business. The principle has been upheld in a number of cases, providing that the company does not discriminate against the licensee on the grounds of age, sex, religion, and other protected rights.

It is unclear why the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering agreed to allow Vitali to surrender his license. The April 12 order states that the case against Vitali was dismissed because he no longer held a license, and it further stated that if Vitali applied for a license in Florida, the case would be reopened.

The division did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.