02/03/2010 12:00AM

Pa. Commission bans Gill from racing at Penn


Penn National Race Course has averted an apparent jockeys' boycott and a major disruption to its Wednesday night program after the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission ruled off controversial owner Michael Gill, who had planned to run horses in four of the track's nine Wednesday races.

Gill was notified late Tuesday afternoon by the commission that his horses will no longer be permitted to race at Penn National, located in Grantville, Pa., although Gill said from New Hampshire that he understood the ruling to mean his horses will still be permitted to race at Philadelphia Park.

The commission ruling came at the conclusion of their investigation into recent breakdowns of Gill's horses at Penn and some 24 hours before the Wednesday card was to begin. Part of the ruling reads that Gill's further participation "will jeopardize the orderly conduct of the race meet" and that "your presence and continued participation has been inconsistent with the best interest of racing."

Eric Schippers, spokesman for Penn National Gaming, said, "We plan to comply fully with this, and we're pleased the commission took such swift action to our request to investigate this matter."

"To me, all this means is they found nothing on me and anyone could be thrown out for whatever they consider to be 'the best interest of racing,' " said Gill. "If they had even the littlest thing to hang on me, believe me, they would have."

Gill announced Monday that he intends to sell off all of his Thoroughbred holdings, saying he is "just worn down" by the recent controversy involving the breakdowns of his horses at Penn National Race Course. In the meantime, however, he intended to race the four horses he had entered for Wednesday at Penn, although an apparent jockey boycott might have made running those races impossible. Some jockeys have gone on record as saying they fear for their safety in races in which Gill horses are racing.

Gill met at length Saturday at Penn with officials and veterinarians from the track to address the situation that existed since the breakdown of Laughing Moon on Jan. 23. Gill said he was informed at the Saturday meeting that necropsies ordered by the track for Laughing Moon and for Melodeeman, who also suffered a catastrophic breakdown Jan. 21 at Penn, uncovered no wrongdoing.

At Penn, six Gill horses had suffered catastrophic breakdowns since Oct. 1, according to Daily Racing Form data, while another nine were pulled up, badly eased, or went lame in races during that period. Overall, Gill won with 370 of 2,247 starters in 2009 and has maintained that, aside from Penn National, he had only one catastrophic breakdown during the entire year at other tracks.

Gill has been the subject of vitriolic writings on various websites and message boards since the Laughing Moon breakdown. He said he received at least two death threats and that his family members slept at a hotel "a couple nights" because of the threats.

Gill, 54, has led North American owners in wins four times since 2003, including last year and in 2005, when he was voted the Eclipse Award for top owner.