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Life At Ten hearing against chief racing steward begins

Alydar trainer John Veitch talked about the horse's rivalry with Triple Crown winner Affirmed in Lexington on March 6, 2008.  Photo by David Stephenson | Staff 5269 This is a photo from video.
Alydar trainer John Veitch talked about the horse's rivalry with Triple Crown winner Affirmed in Lexington on March 6, 2008. Photo by David Stephenson | Staff 5269 This is a photo from video. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

A hearing began Tuesday into racing commission charges that Kentucky's chief state steward failed in his duties last fall regarding the mysterious losing performance of Life At Ten in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic at Churchill Downs.

In March, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted there was sufficient evidence of a violation by John Veitch for a hearing. Veitch was a Hall of Fame trainer before becoming Kentucky's chief steward in July 2005.

Veitch testified Tuesday that he did not ask a state veterinarian to examine Life At Ten before the race even though her jockey said on television that the horse was not warming up well. Veitch said an examination would have put a vet "in a no-win position."

Veitch said the vets, who are on the ground rather than six stories up in the grandstand with the stewards, are in the best position to tell whether something is wrong with a horse.

Life At Ten's jockey, John Velazquez, testified by phone that he didn't approach a vet because the horse was not unsound or limping.

Velazquez, who also was charged in the incident, earlier this year entered an agreement that admitted no wrongdoing, but he agreed to pay a $10,000 fine.

He said Tuesday that the mare, who was second favorite in the race, appeared to be alert just before the start. "I thought she was going to run," he said.

However, the horse broke late from the starting gate and was never in contact with the rest of the field. Officially, she did not finish the race; afterward, she walked off the track uninjured, and no satisfactory explanation has ever been put forth for her poor performance.

Two other stewards, Brooks "Butch" Becraft and Rick Leigh, who were not charged in the incident, testified they didn't contact the vets either.

Becraft said he suggested to Veitch at the time that they should call the vets. Veitch responded that to do so would be tantamount to scratching the horse from the race.

Becraft let the matter drop, Veitch said.

All the stewards testified they did not seek a post-race sample from the horse for drug testing because their priority was to get a potentially ailing horse back to her own barn where her own vet could treat her.

A subsequent investigation by an independent inspector general tested a blood sample drawn before the race; no prohibited substances were found. That investigation also found no evidence of wrongdoing or betting irregularities.

Testimony continues Wednesday. If found guilty, Veitch could be suspended for up to five years and fined up to $50,000.

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