09/18/2006 11:00PM

Woodbine VP suspended for 3 years


The Ontario Racing Commission has suspended the license of Chris Evans, the vice president for Thoroughbred racing at Woodbine, for three years based on his conduct while involved in an extramarital affair with a commission employee, steward Linda Phelan.

The suspension, issued late Monday after three days of bitter hearings since June, will prohibit Evans from working in any Thoroughbred job that requires a license. As part of the ruling, Evans will remain under probation by the commission for one year should his license be reinstated.

David Willmot, the chief executive of Woodbine Entertainment Group, confirmed Tuesday that Evans was prohibited from working at the track, but said that Evans was expected to appeal the commission's decision. If a stay was granted, Willmot said, "he will be able to perform his duties, and will be reinstated."

Willmot would not comment further, citing the anticipated appeal.

Evans and Phelan testified that they had been involved in an affair since late 1999 while both were married. Evans hired Phelan in 2000 to be an entry clerk in the Woodbine racing office, and in 2004 she was hired by the racing commission to be a commission steward at Woodbine. Stewards are responsible for regulating all racing licensees, including track officials.

A 20-page ruling by the commission included allegations that Evans was physically and verbally abusive to Phelan after both struggled to break off the affair in the past two years. Evans was charged in 2005 with assault after an incident with Phelan in a park in Toronto, and in April 2006 he was charged with "uttering death threats" against Phelan after she notified the police about a voice-mail message left by Evans that she deleted, according to the ruling.

Evans, 52, did not return a phone call Tuesday. Calls to Phelan at her residence in Calgary, Alberta, were not returned. Racing commission officials said that Phelan is on sick leave.

Evans and Phelan worked in the same building at Woodbine in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. The hearing included testimony and e-mails indicating that the personal relationship between Evans and Phelan contributed to a bitter relationship between racing commission employees and the Woodbine racing office.

John Blakney, the executive director of the commission, said any disciplinary action against Phelan - who is married to a trainer based in Alberta - would be an "internal matter."

"From our perspective, that issue is an employer-employee matter," Blakney said. "That wouldn't be for me to discuss with the press." Blakney said that to his knowledge, the affair was not known to the commission when Phelan was hired as a steward.

In addition to his duties at Woodbine, Evans is a member of the Breeders' Cup Selection Committee, which determines which horses can participate in Breeders' Cup races in the event of oversubscriptions. Pam Blatz-Murff, the Breeders' Cup official who oversees the committee, said that the suspension could have an impact on Evans's continued participation but that she would not make a decision until she had spoken with Evans.