02/01/2010 1:00AM

In wake of boycott, Gill calls it quits

Email

Owner Michael Gill said he intends to sell off all of his Thoroughbred holdings, saying he is "just worn down" by the recent controversy involving the breakdowns of his horses at Penn National Race Course.

In the meantime, Gill said he intends to race the four horses he has entered for Wednesday night at the Grantville, Pa., track, although an apparent jockey boycott may make running those races impossible.

Gill has one horse entered in each of the third, fourth, fifth, and eighth races Wednesday night. But only four other horses in those races - two in the fifth race and two in the eighth race - have jockeys named to ride on the revised overnight sheet, released Monday. On the original overnight sheet, released Friday, every horse in those four races had a rider named. Jose Baez has replaced Francisco Garcia on the four Gill horses, while Abel Mariano and Luis Quinones each has a mount in the fifth race, and David Cardoso and Stacey Zavala remain named on horses in the eighth race. No horse besides Gill's has a rider named in the third and fourth races. A total of 26 jockeys originally named Friday to ride in those races have taken themselves off mounts.

Phone calls to two Penn jockeys went unreturned Monday. Very few Penn jockeys are members of the Jockeys' Guild, which has not taken a stance in the matter.

This is the second time the jockeys there have refused to ride in a race with a Gill-owned horse. Jockeys initially refused to ride the remainder of the Jan. 23 card at Penn after a Gill-owned horse, Laughing Moon, broke down shortly after the wire in the fifth race. It was only after the one remaining Gill horse on that program, Justin M, was scratched, that jockeys agreed to continue riding. For the four subsequent days of racing at Penn, Jan. 27 through Saturday, Gill horses were not permitted to run. Wednesday will mark the first day of action there since Saturday.

"I'd rather not speculate on what the jockeys may or may not do [Wednesday night]," Eric Schippers, spokesman for Penn National Gaming, wrote Monday in an e-mail.

Said Gill: "I don't know what's going to happen Wednesday night. All I know is I'm running, even if I have to ride the horses."

Gill, who won the Eclipse Award for top owner in 2005 and led all North American owners in wins last year, said Monday morning from his mortgage business in New Hampshire that he has received death threats and that he is "through with the racing business." He said he owns just over 100 horses, with 49 of them stabled at Penn.

"I don't have the taste to do this anymore," he said. Asked how sure he was that he is getting out, he answered: "100 percent." He said he is unsure of how he is going to proceed with the actual selling of his horses.

Gill met at length Saturday at Penn with officials and veterinarians from the track to address the situation that existed since the Laughing Moon breakdown. Gill said necropsies ordered by the track for Laughing Moon and for Melodeeman, who also suffered a catastrophic breakdown Jan. 21 at Penn, uncovered no wrongdoing.

At Penn, six Gill horses have suffered catastrophic breakdowns since Oct. 1, according to Daily Racing Form data, while another nine were pulled up, eased, or went lame in races during that period. Overall, Gill won with 370 of 2,247 starters in 2009 and has maintained that, aside from Penn National, he had only one catastrophic breakdown during the entire year at other tracks.

"The problem is with their racetrack there at Penn, and they're trying to shift the blame to me," said Gill, 54. "Racing in the mountains in Pennsylvania in the dead of winter? Of course you're going to have problems keeping your track safe."

Schippers said in an earlier e-mail that the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission is continuing to investigate the issues surrounding the Gill breakdowns. "We are not releasing details of the meeting," he wrote.

Gill has been the subject of vitriolic web postings since the Laughing Moon breakdown. He said he received at least two death threats and that his family slept at a hotel "a couple nights" because of the threats.

After Gill was the voted the Eclipse in 2005, he dramatically cut back on his stock, getting down to about 20 horses from a high of about 300 at his peak. He said Monday that during that period he still had a yearning to be part of the game, and he eventually became very active again.

"I can't do this anymore, to myself or my family," said Gill, who has five children and two stepchildren. "If one of my horses breaks down again, I'd be right back in the eye of the firestorm."

He spoke at length Monday of how he believes various trainers, jockey agents, and track officials have conspired against him since he became a force in recent seasons at Penn. Having recently been involved in a five-year audit by the Internal Revenue Service, he said he no longer has the will to fight a war on another front.

Gill has owned horses since 1979, but it wasn't until 2000 that he expanded his stable in dramatic fashion. He deals primarily in lower-level claiming horses, although he has won a number of stakes through the years.

The Penn controversy is the latest in a lengthy list for Gill during his tenure in racing. In 2003, his horses were barred from racing at Delaware, after which he filed an antitrust suit that was settled out of court the following year. In 2003-04, he campaigned a stable in Southern California while claiming a slew of horses and shipping them out of state, much to the consternation of racing officials there. In March 2006, he won a case before the New York Supreme Court, overturning two medication positives from races at Saratoga in 2004.