Breeders' Cup: Final Day of Testimony in Life At Ten Case

Possible friction among Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) staff was part of testimony June 30 on the third and final day of an administrative hearing to examine whether state chief steward John Veitch violated racing regulations in connection with Life At Ten's performance in the Nov. 5, 2010, Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

During the hearing Veitch repeated earlier testimony that he believes proper protocol was followed after jockey John Velazquez, in an ESPN interview while the horses were on the track for the Ladies' Classic, claimed the filly wasn't warming up to race as she normally does. Velazquez didn't relay his concerns to veterinarians on site, though a television producer did so.

The Day 3 proceedings led hearing officer Robert Layton to tell attorneys on several occasions their questioning was redundant in light of ground covered the first two days. When Layton will issue his ruling in the Veitch case is unknown.

Veitch, under questioning from his attorney, Tom Miller, said that soon after the Breeders' Cup he planned to broaden the Life At Ten investigation by talking to more participants, but was asked by KHRC deputy executive director Marc Guilfoil if the commission could handle the probe.

"He put it to me in the form of a question, that would I have any objection to the racing commission taking over," Veitch said. "(Stewards Rick Leigh and Brooks Becraft) had no objection, and I had none."

Veitch said it was the first time he was asked if he would mind giving up an investigation before it "reached the final stages of the first procedure." The KHRC then called about 70 witnesses in the case before voting 9-1 earlier this year to cite Veitch for violating regulations.

Miller asked Veitch if he and KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood had disagreements regarding racing commission business. Veitch indicated there was some friction.

"We had some problems with her interference in what I felt should be decision-making by the office of the stewards," Veitch said.

Earlier in the day Morgan called witness Scott Chaney, a steward in California, to have him comment about regulatory procedures at the state's racetracks. He said it's not usual for HRTV producer Amy Zimmerman, who called the Churchill stewards last year to relay Velazquez's comments made on television, to contact the stewards with her observations about horses on the track.

Chaney said veterinarians in California can get information from many sources, and that he trusts Zimmerman's horsemanship.

In Kentucky, according to Veitch, the stewards let the on-track veterinarians determine whether a horse isn't fit to race because they are qualified and it's their job.

It was clear in testimony throughout the hearing that Velazquez's post-parade comments on air and subsequent statements by commentators on ESPN, set the wheels in motion for a situation stewards hadn't previously had to deal with. Also, it was repeatedly stated veterinarians saw no reason to order Life At Ten scratched.

In other testimony, Foster Northrop, DVM, a member of the KHRC, said he watched the filly walk back to the barn area after the Ladies' Classic and saw nothing wrong.

"She was walking perfectly normal back to the barn," Northrop said. "She wasn't in distress."

Northrop, who was in the barn area at Churchill when the race was run and didn't watch the replay of the coverage until three months later, testified it's not common practice for him to call the stewards about a horse's condition in the post parade unless the animal is one of his patients and he's notified of a problem. As for the television coverage, Northrop indicated it was questionable.

"When I saw the coverage, (former jockey) Jerry Bailey's comments were absurd," Northrop said. "He couldn't even see (Life At Ten). She galloped toward the camera, stood for about 30 seconds, then walked to the gate. A horse that was 'tying up' would never have gotten to the gate."

When asked by Layton his opinion on what was wrong with the filly, Northrop said she was "most likely" sick with a virus or respiratory infection.

Northrop also said horses can warm up poorly and perform well in races a few minutes later, and when asked if he'd be concerned by the comments of Velazquez and Bailey on air, he said, "No."

Testimony in the case continued into the afternoon of June 30. It could be months before Layton reviews the transcripts and issues a finding.

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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