Ex-racing steward Veitch likely to challenge firing, lawyer says

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

The attorney for fired chief state racing steward John Veitch said legal action is likely after his abrupt dismissal Monday.

"I anticipate we will take legal action to defend his rights," said Tom Miller, Veitch's attorney. Veitch was given no explanation for why he was let go, Miller said; the dismissal was effective immediately.

It isn't clear what form the legal action might take. The state Public Protection Cabinet, in a letter to Veitch on Monday, said he was fired without cause and therefore had no right to appeal the dismissal to the Kentucky Personnel Board.

Miller said he has advised Veitch not to speak to the media. Kentucky Horse Racing Commission interim executive director Marc Guilfoil said Tuesday that he could not comment on why Veitch was fired.

Brice "Rick" Williams, assistant director of the Kentucky Breeders' Incentive Fund, has been named interim chief steward and will replace Veitch at Turfway Park's meet, which opens Thursday. Public Protection Cabinet Secretary Bob Vance and racing commission Chairman Bob Beck will conduct a national search for a permanent replacement, who will be appointed by Vance.

Veitch had worked the day before his firing at Churchill Downs, which ended its fall meet Sunday. The dismissal came two weeks before a report is due on a three-day hearing held in June into Veitch's actions regarding an incident with the racehorse Life At Ten during the 2010 Breeders' Cup.

The hearing officer's recommendation to the state racing commission is due by Dec. 14; the commission must vote to accept, amend or reject the recommendation even though Veitch has been fired.

"I find it particularly curious that they're firing him before that report," Miller said.

Veitch, who was appointed in 2005, had challenged the commission's vote to censor him for not taking action after Life At Ten's jockey, John Velazquez, said in a televised interview before the race that the horse wasn't warming up properly. Although Life At Ten was the second favorite in the Ladies' Classic, she ran a lackluster race and trailed the field. She was not tested for drugs after the race; subsequent testing of a pre-race blood sample found no illegal substances.

In March, the racing commission voted 9-1 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 condition" and failing to collect a post-race sample from the horse.

Veitch has denied wrong-doing.

Charges also were made 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.

Velazquez settled the charges in April by paying a $10,000 fine and admitting no wrongdoing.

But Veitch, the Hall of Fame trainer of Alydar, said this spring that he was never tempted to do the same.

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

His father was the late Hall of Fame trainer Sylvester Veitch, who won the Belmont Stakes twice for C.V. Whitney and also trained for George Widener.

Veitch's dismissal comes less than two weeks after the commission's executive director, Lisa Underwood, resigned to return to private law practice.

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