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Report Says Veitch Was Negligent

Practice Areas

December 14, 2011

By Matt Hegarty
Daily Racing Form

December 14, 2011

LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Veitch, the former chief state steward of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, should face a one-year suspension in Kentucky for "gross negligence of his duties" in relation to the Life At Ten incident at the 2010 Breeders' Cup, a report released on Wednesday examining Veitch's role in the incident concluded.

The report, prepared by Robert Layton, the chief hearing officer and executive director of the Kentucky Office of Administrative Hearings, said that Veitch violated multiple Kentucky racing rules by failing to tell veterinarians to examine Life At Ten after her jockey told television commentators that the filly was listless in the warm-up to the race. The report also said that Veitch failed to perform his duties to protect the integrity of racing by neglecting to order the filly to the test barn after she finished last and by failing to investigate adequately the reasons behind her poor performance.

The report was released 16 days after the department overseeing the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission fired Veitch, who had been the state steward since 2005. Although that would seem to make the conclusions of the report moot, at least as far as penalties are concerned, the report's recommendation that the commission suspend Veitch for one year could have far-reaching ramifications for Veitch under racing's rules of reciprocity, in which suspensions in one jurisdiction are generally honored by other racing jurisdictions.

Veitch, 66, has appealed his dismissal, claiming that the state violated his rights by not informing him of a cause for his discharge, among other claims. The Kentucky Personnel Board is expected to issue a decision soon as to whether it will hear the appeal, according to his attorney, Tom Miller.

Miller said on Wednesday that he will file papers taking "exception" to the recommendation, but he said that Veitch's legal strategy beyond that is up in the air as they await the action from the personnel board and the racing commission.

"We will file exceptions, and the racing commission will find him guilty, because they're the ones who charged him, so that's self-evident," Miller said. "But since he is no longer an employee of the racing commission, this whole process is going to be very different."

Life At Ten was the second choice in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, but she finished last in the race after never being asked to run by her jockey, John Velazquez. Five minutes before post, Velazquez had said during an interview with television commentators that the filly "was not warming up like she normally does." A television producer then called the stewards by phone to alert them of the comments.

Life At Ten's performance created an uproar among some racing fans and commentators who felt the filly should have been scratched based on Velazquez's comments. The filly's owner, Candy DeBartolo, also criticized the decision to allow the filly to run, singling out Veitch in her comments.

Following the race, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission conducted a lengthy investigation into the incident and concluded that it had "probable cause" to charge Velazquez and Veitch with multiple violations of Kentucky's racing rules. Shortly thereafter, Velazquez accepted an agreement in which he paid a $10,000 fine — with $5,000 going to charity — without admitting wrongdoing, while Veitch decided to contest the charges.

During the initial investigation, Veitch told officials that he did not remember having a conversation with another Churchill steward, Butch Becraft, in which Becraft recommended that the stewards should call the state veterinarian to have him check on the horse. But during his testimony at the hearing, Veitch contradicted his earlier statement, saying that he did remember having the conversation but recommended against taking action.

The report was highly critical of that discrepancy and several others, concluding that the contradictions diminished the "probative value" of Veitch's testimony.

"The change from Veitch's prehearing discovery response and his explanation for it were deceptive and self-serving, to provide the appearance that all the stewards supported Veitch's decision to not call the veterinarians," the report states.

The report also states that "Veitch's original conduct was not proven to be intentional," and that "although his failure to act before the race is grossly negligent and harmful to the purpose of the commission, there was no proof he was taking part in an intentionally corrupt scheme."

If the commission decides to accept the hearing officer's recommendation, other racing jurisdictions will likely face questions about whether Veitch could serve in a similar capacity at a racetrack until the length of his suspension expires. As a rule, most racing commissions will not allow an individual who has been suspended in one jurisdiction to work in their own jurisdictions.

Miller called the recommendation for a one-year suspension unfair, by contrasting it with Velazquez's settlement, which did not include a suspension.

"The person riding the horse, who made the statement, who had the obligation to take the horse to a vet if he felt it wasn't fit, he got a $5,000 fine," Miller said. "But Mr. Veitch is out of job."

Veitch, a former trainer and the son of Hall of Fame trainer Sylvester Veitch, was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 2007, four years after he retired. Most prominently, he trained Alydar, who finished second to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races in 1978.

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