Life At Ten's lackluster warm-up last fall for the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic raised few alarms, according to witnesses who testified Wednesday in the unprecedented hearing against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's chief state steward, John Veitch.
Veitch is accused of doing too little before the race, when jockey John Velazquez made comments on television that the horse was not warming up well, and too little after the race, when the horse was not sent for drug testing.
Veitch's attorney, Tom Miller, contends the charges are selective prosecution, and that Veitch is "a scapegoat."
Veitch testified Wednesday that after he heard some of the jockey's comments, he walked out to the stewards' box balcony at Churchill Downs with high-powered binoculars to take a look at the horse.
He said he "didn't see anything out of the ordinary," so he didn't call the state vets on the track.
"If the jockey saw anything wrong, it's his responsibility to go to the vet," Veitch said.
Asked if he made a mistake in the case, Veitch said, "No. If I heard the entire broadcast, I might have had the vets check her, but I can't speculate."
About the same time that Veitch was watching the mare through his binoculars, on-track veterinary expert commentator Dr. Larry Bramlage radioed to Dr. Bryce Peckham, the top racing commission vet. Peckham was monitoring the horses during the post parade and as they approached the starting gate.
Peckham testified Wednesday that Bramlage "asked if any rider had brought a horse to any of my vets. It kind of took me aback." Peckham did a quick check with the nearby vets, who all indicated that no jockey had contacted them. Typically, if a jockey is unwilling to ride a horse or a problem is evident, the vet will recommend to the steward that the horse be scratched.
Peckham radioed back a negative. "We were all really perked up at that point. We were watching, ... waiting for somebody to come up to us," he said. But nobody did, and almost immediately the horses began to load into the gate. Life At Ten, in post position 1, was one of the first loaded.
Peckham said he didn't ask Bramlage for any details but that in hindsight he wishes he'd been more inquisitive.
But he said that, even though at that point all the vets were being hypervigilant, "we did not see anything abnormal that would entice us to examine the horse."
Life At Ten broke poorly from the gate, trailed the field, and pulled up at a trot just over the finish line. Peckham was the first vet to reach her. He said, "What have you got?"
Velazquez responded: "She just didn't put out any effort."
"Is she OK?" Peckham asked.
"Yes, she's OK," Velazquez said.
Vets around the track continued to monitor her as she walked off under her own steam and was sent to trainer Todd Pletcher's barn. An attending vet reported later that she appeared to be "tying up," or cramping after the race, and was treated with fluids and electrolytes.
Peckham said it is quite normal for beaten favorites not to be sent to the testing barn if they might need veterinary treatment.
Dr. Mary Scollay, the commission's equine medical director, said based on the horse's behavior there was no reason to scratch the horse.
"If that's all they saw, no," they should not have intervened, Scollay testified of the vets.
The hearing will continue Thursday.