06/15/2016 2:48PM

Trainer Umarov denied stay of 10-year suspension


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted unanimously at a meeting on Wednesday to uphold a decision last week by the commission’s executive director to deny the stay of a 10-year suspension handed down to trainer Otabek Umarov.

The KHRC members affirmed the decision shortly after the commission’s legal counsel, John Forgy, urged the members to keep Umarov on the sidelines as he pursues an appeal of the 10-year suspension handed down by Kentucky’s stewards in late May. Forgy said the incident leading to the penalty was “exceptional” even as he acknowledged that “we do not deny a request for a stay lightly” because of concerns about due-process rights.

Shortly after the commission voted, Umarov’s legal counsel, Justin Fowles, said he would seek a stay for his client in Franklin Circuit Court. In the past, civil courts have been slightly more receptive to granting stays of racing penalties than commissions, though there is no set of particular circumstances that would predict which way a court will rule on the question.

Umarov was sanctioned late in May after stewards ruled that he had prevented representatives of the commission from obtaining an out-of-competition blood sample from a horse he trains who was stabled at Churchill Downs. The stewards also claimed that Umarov exacerbated the situation when, unknown to the stewards, he ordered a stable employee to remove the horse from the grounds while stewards and other commission personnel attempted to resolve the matter.

Umarov’s legal counsel sought a stay of the ruling early in June. The KHRC’s executive director, Marc Guilfoil, denied the initial request for a stay one week ago. The decision Wednesday was an appeal of Guilfoil’s denial.

The KHRC conducted the vote by voice on Wednesday shortly after breaking from a 30-minute closed session to discuss the case. Prior to going into closed session, Fowles and Forgy, the two legal counsels in the case, were each given 10 minutes to argue their sides in front of the commission.

While Fowles and Forgy agreed on the timetable of the April 30 events that resulted in the order, they disagreed on many of the details. For example, Fowles argued that Umarov prevented the horse from being sampled because he was not certain if the commission representative had the authority to sample the horse; Forgy said that Umarov was personally acquainted with the commission representative, Dr. Nick Smith, and even greeted him by name and title when he showed up at the barn.

“At no point did Mr. Umarov question Dr. Smith’s authority to test the horse, contrary to what he is saying today,” Forgy said.

The two also disagreed on Umarov’s fluency in English and the trainer’s justification for sending the horse from the grounds of Churchill.

On the day of the incident, commission personnel were attempting to obtain a blood sample from Looks to Spare, a horse Umarov claimed in Chicago last year for $5,000 who later in the year won the West Virginia Governor’s Cup and finished third in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap.

Explaining the success he had with the horse, Fowles said that Umarov “trains his horses differently than most people. … He puts a lot of miles on these horses. Some horses can handle it, and some can’t.”