The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday issued an opinion largely affirming the one-year suspension of former chief steward John Veitch based on his handling of the horse Life At Ten at the 2010 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.
However, in one area, the court found that the commission improperly ruled Veitch should have taken action before the race and remanded that part of the case back to Franklin Circuit Court. That could theoretically impact the length of the suspension, which already has expired.
Hall of Fame trainer Veitch has been relicensed by the state and began working at Keeneland this fall. His attorney, Tom Miller, could not be reached for comment.
The Public Protection Cabinet issued this statement: "The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is pleased that the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission's actions findings and conclusions that Veitch violated regulations with regard to the post-race performance of Life At Ten. As regards the other findings of the Court, the Commission is reviewing its options and next steps."
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On Nov. 5, 2010, Life At Ten, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, went to the start of the Ladies' Classic as the second-favorite, but she inexplicably finished dead last. Just before the start of the race, Velazquez commented on TV that his horse did not appear to be warming up "the way she normally does." An ESPN producer contacted the stewards, who did not ask a veterinarian to examine the horse beforehand. The horse also was not immediately examined or tested for drugs afterward.
More than $300,000 was bet on her to win; the racing commission determined regulations likely had been violated by Veitch and Velazquez and referred charges to a hearing officer.
Velazquez negotiated and paid a $10,000 fine; Veitch contested the charges. After a three-day hearing, he was fired in November 2011 by Public Protection Cabinet Secretary Robert Vance. Veitch's steward's license later was suspended for one year.
Veitch appealed the suspension to Franklin Circuit Court, which ruled that it was proper. He then appealed to the Court of Appeals. He also challenged his firing with the state, but the Personnel Board upheld it earlier this year.
In Friday's ruling, the appeals court ruled that the racing commission regulations were not too vague, as Veitch had argued in appealing the case.
"Veitch should have understood from the regulations that he had the authority to call for a veterinarian to evaluate Life At Ten and could have used that discretion to take action on Velazquez's statement," the court wrote in its opinion. "Veitch should have understood that a horse that substantially underperforms, as Life in Ten (sic) did, should be tested and investigated for regulatory violations immediately following a race."
The court also said Veitch failed to explain how his treatment was discriminatory compared to how Velazquez or the other two stewards were treated.
But the court agreed with Veitch that the jockey's pre-race statements "did not immediately call into question Life At Ten's health and well-being, mandating action by Veitch. However, the horse's poor, unexpected racing performance certainly did require Veitch to take action based on the regulations."