Winning Jockey Allegedly Used 'Buzzer'

Officials with Oaklawn Park and the Arkansas Racing Commission announced April 15 they have uncovered evidence that has led them to believe jockey Billy Patin had an electrical device in his possession when he rode longshot Valhol to a 4 1/2-length victory in the April 10 Arkansas Derby (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park.

During an emergency telephone meeting, the racing commission voted unanimously to impanel the Oaklawn stewards--no longer on the payroll because the track's meet ended the day of the Arkansas Derby--to conduct a complete investigation and take appropriate action. The commission voted to withhold distribution of the winner's $300,000 share of the purse.

Patin has denied the charge, and would not comment upon his arrival at Churchill Downs, where Valhol continues to prepare for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). But just after the charges were leveled, he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: "I swear to God that I never did that."

Valhol's owner, James Jackson, labeled the investigation a "witch hunt" and said he was "absolutely distraught" about the situation. "Billy had no reason in the world to do that," Jackson said. "You know, this meant too much to every one of us for us to cheat."

Jackson said he would consider legal action. With a full field of 20 expected for the May 1 Derby, Valhol probably would need the Arkansas Derby earnings to get into the race. His only previous earnings in a graded stakes, $38,400, came when fourth in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II).

Dallas Keen, who trains Valhol, also said he didn't believe Patin used an electical device--often called a "buzzer" or "battery"--on the colt. "What I have to go by is what Billy said," Keen told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "He told me, 'I never used anything on the horse.' "

The device, often wrapped in black electrical tape and about the size of a disposable cigarette lighter, uses a small battery, wire, and a pair of short metal posts for contacts--one of them usually spring-loaded. It is applied to a horse's neck and releases an electrical charge when the spring-loaded post comes into contact with the horse. Those familiar with the use of a "battery" say riders who use them will test a horse's response, usually during training hours.

Oaklawn president Charles Cella said track officials were presented with strong evidence that Patin had an electrical device and immediately initiated an investigation. Cella said all evidence collected over the subsequent 96-hour period was sent to the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, which concurred that further investigation was warranted.

Racing commission chairman Cecil Alexander wouldn't comment on the evidence against Patin, except to say a device was found on the track. A review of the Arkansas Derby telecast on ESPN revealed what appears to be an object falling to the ground by the left shoulder of Valhol as he was being pulled up on the clubhouse turn after the race. "I can't say I don't see something that looks like it's dropping from the horse," Keen admitted to the Courier-Journal. "But I don't know what it is. I guess a lot of that will come out in the investigation."

Alexander said he hoped the investigation could be completed quickly because of the possible effect on horses being pointed to the Kentucky Derby.

According to The Jockey Club, Patin had ridden 43 times for Keen from 1997 to April 15, 1999. This year, he has ridden only four times--three of the mounts came aboard Valhol--for Keen, who is based in the Southwest.

Patin has never been charged with using an electrical device, though he does have a troubled past. In February of 1990, according to the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Patin was suspended in Louisiana because he tested positive for "dangerous substance abuse." The RCI report said this was a third offense for Patin. Eight months later, Patin was restored to good standing, subject to monthly drug screening for one year and enrollment in a drug rehabilitation program. In March of 1997, in Texas, Patin was again suspended, this time for a positive test for marijuana.

The charge comes at a time when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association is trying to generate more coverage for the sport. The NTRA, beginning with its drug-testing committee, also intends to make integrity in racing a priority.

"If the charge is true, it's unfortunate something like this might blemish the Arkansas Derby," NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said. "The positive aspect of this is it clearly demonstrates that racing has systems in place to protect itself. The Oaklawn Jockey Club, the Arkansas authorities, and the TRPB are all doing the right thing to deal with this."

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