04/23/2005 12:00AM

Stewards clear Wygod in 'Catomine' case


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park stewards on Saturday cleared owner Marty Wygod of allegations of wrongdoing surrounding Sweet Catomine's loss in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 after testimony revealed that the California Horse Racing Board had built the case on hastily compiled evidence.

In a three-hour hearing, Wygod was cleared of all charges, which included participating in conduct detrimental to racing by not being more forthcoming in press statements regarding Sweet Catomine's condition before the race. Wygod was also accused of knowingly falsifying paperwork related to Sweet Catomine's departure from Santa Anita five days before the race to be treated at a clinic.

Sweet Catomine finished fifth in the Santa Anita Derby. After the race, Wygod revealed that she had bled in a workout on April 3 and had been transported on April 4 to a clinic in central California to be treated for bleeding. None of the information was disclosed before the race.

The champion 2-year-old filly of 2004, Sweet Catomine was subsequently retired. She was bred to A.P. Indy in Kentucky on Saturday, Wygod said.

Hollywood Park stewards Dennis Nevin, Pete Pedersen, and Tom Ward dismissed the case against Wygod after attorney Richard Kendall argued that the CHRB did not have evidence that Wygod was responsible for documents stating that a "pony" had left trainer Julio Canani's stable at 3 a.m. on April 3 and returned the following day.

The allegations of falsifying the documents are part of a complaint against van driver Dean Kerkhoff, which will be heard before Hollywood Park stewards on April 30.

During Saturday's hearing, Kerkhoff said that he had been in contact with River Edge Farm manager Russell Drake regarding the arrangements to transport Sweet Catomine to the Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic in Los Olivos, Calif.

Kerkhoff said that he had not had a conversation with Wygod before Saturday and only met him at the hearing. During testimony Saturday, Kerkhoff said that he had met with Wygod earlier in the day and "I apologized for my wrongdoing."

During the first hour of the hearing, CHRB senior special investigator Christopher Loop testified that he spent one day - April 10 - preparing the case against Wygod. He said he interviewed Canani, members of the trainer's staff, veterinarian Jeff Blea, and Kerkhoff.

When asked by Kendall if he got relevant information during the investigation, Loop replied, "Not to my satisfaction."

Loop said he did not interview Wygod during the investigation, and regretted that decision.

"My instructions were to file those charges based on the allegations, and it would be proven out during the hearing," Loop said.

The stewards adjourned the hearing briefly but reconvened before taking testimony from Canani. Canani stated that neither he nor members of his staff had falsified documents regarding Sweet Catomine's departure on April 3, and that Sweet Catomine had bled "a little bit. Out of a five, a one."

At that point, Kendall asked the stewards to dismiss the case against Wygod, which they did after a brief conference, citing testimony from Canani and statements from veterinarians that Sweet Catomine was fit to start April 9.

After the hearing, Wygod, a member of the board of directors at Del Mar and a member of The Jockey Club, said he was "disappointed" that the case was heard and hinted that he could quit racing.

"My name was dragged through the mud in 20 to 30 newspapers," Wygod said. "Charges were brought against me that were unfounded. It's had an impact on my wife and my kids. I have to make some hard decision on whether I want to continue."

Wygod has a massive investment in the sport, including River Edge Farm in Santa Ynez, Calif., an active racing stable, and several prominent broodmares in Kentucky.