12/19/2006 12:00AM

Tampa bans seven riders

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Tampa Bay Downs on Tuesday issued immediate and indefinite bans to seven jockeys, including two-time leading rider Terry Houghton, citing an investigation by the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau.

Tampa Bay Downs officials would not comment beyond a terse statement released Tuesday afternoon that cited Tampa's rights as a "private property owner" to deny the jockeys access to the racetrack during the TRPB investigation. On multiple occasions, courts have upheld racetracks when the tracks have banned jockeys or trainers, citing racing's need to protect the betting public.

"Tampa Bay Downs is fully cooperating with the investigation and has no further comment on the matter at this time," Tampa vice president and general manager Peter Berube said in the statement. Later Tuesday, Berube declined to take a reporter's phone call.

In addition to Houghton, the banned jockeys are: Jorge Bracho, Derek Bell, Luis Castillo, Jose Delgado, Joseph Judice, and Ricardo Valdes.

Delgado said Tuesday that he was informed that morning by track personnel that he had been banned but was given no reason for it.

"They just told me that I had to pack my stuff and go," said Delgado, who has one win from two mounts during the current Tampa meet, which began on Dec. 9.

"I kept saying, 'What did I do? What did I do?' And they said that this was private property, and I had to leave right now. I didn't do anything wrong."

Delgado said that he had been interviewed a "couple" of times by TRPB agents on the grounds of the racetrack in the past several weeks.

"They kept asking me if I knew this person or that person," Delgado said. "I didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't know anyone they asked me about."

Lenny Washburn, the agent for Joe Judice, said he was "shocked" by the ban. Washburn, who has been Judice's jockey agent for only three weeks, did not respond to requests for a phone number for Judice.

Agents for Bracho, Bell, Castillo, and Houghton did not return phone calls. A phone number for Valdes could not be immediately obtained.

The Tampa bans were issued just five days after Calder Race Course in Miami issued a ban to jockey Rene Douglas. Calder officials would not comment on the reason for the ban, and officials at the TRPB contacted on Tuesday said they could not comment about whether Douglas's ban was related to the investigation at Tampa, nor would they comment on the Tampa investigation.

Ken Dunn, Calder's general manager, did not return a phone call on Tuesday.

The Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau, which is owned by an organization of racetracks, is an investigation company that has most recently been devoting most of its efforts to combating betting fraud.

Dwight Manley, the national manager of the Jockeys' Guild, said on Tuesday afternoon that the guild's regional managers were attempting to collect information on why the bans were issued, but said that, so far, the group had been unsuccessful in obtaining any information about the case.

"We're trying to get any facts about this, but we can't, from the jockeys, from the track, from investigatory officials," Manley said. "We're going to talk to our attorneys later today to try to determine what to do."

Manley said that the guild would provide legal advice and representation to the riders, if warranted.