Hearing against steward wraps; ruling at least 5 months away

After three days of sometimes contentious testimony, the unusual hearing into the actions of Kentucky's top racing steward wrapped up Thursday.

John Veitch, 66, is accused of failing to properly enforce the state's racing regulations last fall at the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

In that race, second-favorite Life At Ten finished last. Her jockey, John Velazquez, had made comments on television beforehand that she "was not warming up" as she usually did.

After a four-month investigation, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted 9-1 in March that there was probable cause that Veitch had violated rules by not investigating potential racing infractions, failing to scratch a horse not in "sound racing conditions" and failing to collect a post-race sample from the horse.

Charges also were referred against Velazquez for failing to ride out the horse and for failing to act in the best interest of racing by not taking the horse to a veterinarian to be checked.

One witness Thursday, Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Benevolent and Protective Association, suggested that a special policy might have been in place during the Breeders' Cup that would have required scratching a horse automatically if the jockey or the steward had asked a vet to take a look.

At the conclusion of the commission's case Thursday, Veitch's attorney, Tom Miller, moved to have the case dismissed.

Miller argued that the commission failed to prove that Veitch did anything outside the discretion allowed a steward.

"There is no proof that the timing of the investigation was an abuse of his discretion," Miller said.

On failing to send Life At Ten to the test barn to have blood and urine samples taken for drug testing, Miller said, there was testimony from several vets, including the commission's Dr. Bryce Peckham, to indicate that the horse might have needed medical attention after running so poorly.

Miller said the charge that Veitch should have called a vet to examine Life At Ten before the race, when he was made aware of the jockey's comments, should be dismissed because multiple vets, including commission member Dr. Foster Northrop, said the statement was meaningless.

Miller contended that the prosecution of Veitch alone of the three stewards and multiple veterinarians was selective and that he was being made a scapegoat.

Hearing officer Bob Layton denied Miller's motion; the two sides will file written closing arguments within the next two months. Layton will have up to 90 days after that to recommend whether Veitch should be sanctioned.

The racing commission, which oversaw the investigation and the case against Veitch, then will vote whether to accept any or all of Layton's recommendations.

Veitch could be suspended for five years and fined up to $50,000.

He said Thursday that he was never tempted to settle, as Velazquez did in April by paying a $10,000 fine.

"I felt my side of the story should be heard," Veitch said. "It reflects on my name and my father's reputation, and that's something that I value very highly."

Veitch wouldn't comment whether, in hindsight, he would have done anything differently in November.

"I think we made the right decision. I still stand by it," Veitch said. As he was heading off to Ellis Park in Henderson to officiate Thursday, he said will continue to serve at the pleasure of Gov. Steve Beshear.

"I am very proud of the work I've done in Kentucky and at the racetracks. I am very proud to work for the commission and be chief state steward," Veitch said. "I've done my utmost to uphold the integrity of racing."

Luke Morgan, the attorney for the racing commission, said after the hearing that the commission likewise takes seriously its responsibility for the health and safety of the horses and jockeys, and the integrity of the wagering system.

"That's what this hearing was about," Morgan said. "It's a matter of quality assurance and quality control."

Morgan said common sense should have guided Veitch to call the vets and to send the horse to be tested after such a poor performance.

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