10/24/2011 4:12PM

Underwood leaving Kentucky commission


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Lisa Underwood has resigned as executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to return to the law firm where she previously worked, Underwood announced at a regular meeting of the commission on Monday.

Underwood, the executive director of the commission since October of 2006, said at the close of the meeting that she had been approached by her former employer, the Lexington firm Wyatt, Tarrant, and Combs, about returning as a partner in the company’s equine and business law unit. Underwood’s resignation will be effective Nov. 16, 11 days after the Breeders’ Cup, which is being held for the second consecutive year in Kentucky.

“I thank you for letting me work with you throughout these last five years, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I’ve enjoyed working with everyone,” Underwood said.

Underwood’s announcement and a subsequent statement of gratitude delivered by the commission’s chairman, Robert Beck, was met by a warm round of standing applause by those in attendance at the meeting, a lineup that included representatives of racetracks, horsemen, and breeding organizations.

“She always tried to do the right thing to establish and enhance the integrity of racing,” Beck said. “We will really miss Lisa’s leadership and dedication.”

Marc Guilfoil, the commission’s deputy executive director, will serve as interim executive director while a search is conducted, according to the office of Gov. Steve Beshear, who will be responsible for appointing a replacement.

During Underwood’s five years at the helm, the commission asserted itself aggressively in the regulation of racing through the adoption of new regulations on medications and stiffer penalties for medication violations, efforts that sometimes placed the commission in conflict with the state’s horsemen. The rules included a ban on the non-therapeutic use of anabolic steroids – part of a national effort – and the establishment of stricter guidelines for the administration of drugs.

Underwood also led the commission as it hired its first equine medical director and supervisor of parimutuel racing. She also spearheaded the pursuit of charges against the commission’s own chief state steward, John Veitch, for his role in the Life At Ten incident at last year’s Breeders’ Cup, in which the commission contended that Veitch may have violated the state’s rules of racing by failing to order Life At Ten scratched after her jockey addressed concerns about her behavior to television commentators during her warm-up for the Ladies’ Classic. A hearing officer’s recommendations in the case are pending.

Marty Maline, the executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said following the meeting that the announcement had caught him by surprise.

“We’ve had our agreements and our disagreements, but I never felt like we couldn’t work it out,” Maline said.

The announcement came at the end of a two-hour hearing in which the commission approved an application by Ellis Park to operate gambling machines that use the results of previously run races to determine payouts. The application was the second to be approved by the commission, which adopted rules allowing racetracks to operate the machines earlier this year.

Ellis Park’s owner, Ron Geary, said after the meeting that he hopes to open a gambling parlor at the track sometime in the first three months of 2012. The application will allow Ellis to operate 252 of the machines.

Geary said that he expects the machines to provide a 40 to 50 percent boost to purses after the first full year of operation. Because Ellis Park will remain open during its off-season in order to allow customers to gamble on the machines, the track will also reopen as a year-round simulcasting facility, Geary said, as of Jan. 1. Ellis decided two years ago to close during the off-season, citing excessive costs.

The legality of the machines is currently being challenged by a conservative group that contends the devices violate a state constitutional ban on slot machines. The suit is expected to be heard later this year or early in 2012.

Also at the meeting, the commission approved a request by Churchill Downs to add one date to its live racing application for 2012, on July 1. The track’s earlier application had listed June 30 as its closing date.