03/11/2011 1:28PM

Velazquez disputes accusations in Life At Ten report

Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey John Velazquez eases Life At Ten in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

Jockey John Velazquez intends to vigorously defend his actions during the Life At Ten incident last year after being charged with three potential violations of Kentucky’s rules of racing by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Thursday, his attorney, Maggi Moss, said in a statement released on Friday.

Moss, a leading horse owner, called Velazquez a “scapegoat” for the commission, which released a report on Thursday examining Life At Ten’s uninspired performance in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. Following the release of the report, the commission approved a motion stating that they had “probable cause” to charge Velazquez with three violations of Kentucky’s racing rules, including a charge that the rider had not “acted in the best interests of racing.”

“The entire process, as well as the charges against Mr. Velazquez, will not withstand legal scrutiny,” Moss said.

As a result of the charges, Velazquez will need to appear before a hearing officer, who will determine whether or not the rider should be found in violation of the three rules and, if so, what penalties the rider should face. A hearing has not yet been scheduled, according to the commission.

The report released on Thursday was the culmination of a two-month probe into Life At Ten’s last-place finish in the Classic, a performance that caused an uproar among racing fans who felt the horse should have been scratched after Velazquez told commentators for ESPN in the post parade that Life At Ten was “not warming up the way she normally does.” Trained by Todd Pletcher, Life At Ten was the second choice in the race – with a total of $1 million in straight and exotic wagers placed on her – and Velazquez never urged her to run.

:: View the entire Kentucky Racing Commission report | Summary and Recommendations

The report said that there was no evidence of “intentional wrongdoing or nefarious or fraudulent activity” surrounding Life At Ten’s performance or betting on the race, but it recommended that the racing commission consider whether Velazquez violated one of the state’s racing rules. After nearly three hours of private deliberations on Thursday afternoon, the commission instead brought probable cause on three violations.

The report also recommended that the commission consider finding probable cause of violations under four statutes for the state’s stewards. Instead, the commission ended up finding probable cause of five violations for chief state steward John Veitch, who declined to comment on the charges following the meeting. Veitch, a former trainer, has been chief state steward in Kentucky since 2005.

The charges against Veitch relate to a steward’s responsibilities to investigate possible violations and scratch horses that are potentially unsound, along with his failure to order post-race blood and urine samples from Life At Ten. In the report, Veitch had said that he did not send Life At Ten to the test barn because of concern over her physical state and potential overcrowding in the barn.

The report makes clear that Velazquez never communicated any concerns about Life At Ten to veterinarians, but the report also states that stewards learned of Velazquez’s comments approximately five minutes before the race. The stewards did not relay that information to veterinarians at the starting gate or other veterinary officials, the report said.

The report also makes clear that Life At Ten never displayed any indications of unsoundness or lameness prior to or after the race. Blood tests conducted by a veterinarian for Pletcher later indicated that the horse may have been fighting off an infection at the time of the Ladies’ Classic, though she had shown no signs of sickness leading up the race.

“The [commission] veterinarians did not observe anything, nor did they receive any information, that caused them to question [Life At Ten’s] fitness to race,” the report stated.

In her statement, Moss contended that even if Velazquez had told veterinarians that the horse was not warming up properly, the veterinarians and stewards would not have scratched the horse because post-time scratches are typically limited to horses who are thought to be unsound, not lethargic. She also said that the charges brought against Velazquez create an impossible standard.

“By electing to proceed with such a charge, the regulators are essentially setting a precedent that jockeys should scratch every horse that warms up sound but sluggish,” Moss said. “Otherwise, they could potentially be subject to sanctions or other penalties.”

In summary, the report states that there were very few violations of specific rules relating to the incident, but a “failure of common sense to prevail.” It recommended that racing officials better coordinate communications so that any concerns about a horse’s well-being are relayed to the appropriate personnel.

“Many of the participants seemed to be waiting for someone else to take action,” the report stated.

Citing the confusion created by Velazquez’s televised comments, the report also recommended that racing groups should consider “weighing benefits of post-parade jockey interviews versus the duty of the KHRC to protect the safety and integrity of the sport.”