The hearing of trainer Linda Rice wrapped its third day on Nov. 12 with more testimony from New York Racing Association (NYRA) employees about standard operating procedures in the racing office. The hearing is meant to determine what, if any, sanctions await Rice, who is accused of “corrupt and improper acts in relation to racing.” Rice could face suspension or revocation of her license, and fines of up to $25,000 per violation.
Former racing office employee Jose Morales testified last week he provided Rice with horses’ names and past performance information via fax and email both for races he was trying to fill and races Rice expressed an interest in. The commission maintains Rice received an unfair advantage by having this information prior to the races being drawn when other trainers did ot, as she had the opportunity to add or remove horses from fields depending upon how the competition was shaping up.
Thursday’s proceedings involved the completion of testimony from Martin Panza, senior vice president of racing operations at NYRA, who began testifying last week, and testimony from Chris Camac, assistant racing secretary at Aqueduct. Camac recalled Rice having a reputation for putting horses in races — particularly turf races — and later calling to swap one horse out for another just before draw time. Although other trainers may occasionally do the same, Camac said Rice did so more often than average and was known to turn in her entries somewhat later in the day than other trainers.
Not for the first time, senior racing office officials told a somewhat different story about what goes on in the racing office than employees further down the food chain. Morales and former colleague Matt Salvato said last week they had the impression it was routine in some situations to reveal the names of horses or trainers pre-draw during the process of “hustling” to generate entries for a race with few entries. They also alleged there wasn’t an orientation program for new employees emphasizing what information was acceptable to give out and what wasn’t, although Morales admitted to hiding his communications with Rice from others.
(Salvato was eventually fired from the racing office when the scheme was uncovered, but testified last week he would provide Rice information she requested if Morales was unavailable.)
Camac and Panza said that while was no formal training program for new racing office employees, employees were well-versed in what they could and couldn’t say to trainers.
Camac and Panza were presented Thursday with sworn testimony from trainer David Donk which cast doubt on what information is commonly given out to trainers — even now. Donk was asked about whether trainers were provided with names of horses or trainers in entries pre-draw, and about whether trainers were shown entries after the draw to help them figure out which riders may be available.
Counsel for Rice read part of Donk’s statement into the record.
“[Clerks] might show me the computer screen to show me the names of the entered horses but not the PPs … Whenever they hustle a race to try and get it to fill, they will often tell you about the horses in a race to try and make it fill,” the statement read in part. “It is no different today when they’re hustling a race. They’ll tell you who is in a race to help you make a decision.”
Camac disputed the apparent allegation by Donk that trainers are to this day given information he and Panza had described as confidential.
“I cannot speak for Mr. Donk but I can speak for myself and I tell you, this has not happened in 2019, 2020 for sure because I was here,” he said. “I never saw it. I don’t believe it.”
And if he had overheard an employee providing that information?
“I would have taken them to the racing commission myself,” he said. “It’s a thing called integrity.”
Panza had stipulated last week that trainers may be given information about what an anonymous competitor in a certain race has done during its last start, or how the pace is shaping up based on current entries, but the actual release of names is not permissible. Panza admitted many savvy trainers can probably guess which horses are likely candidates for a given race without getting confidential information, but said that knowing which were entered and which weren’t could still be beneficial. Panza read Donk’s statement as a reference to learning which riders were in a race after draw time, not which horses were there before draw time, and stated he was not aware of racing office employees divulging confidential information.
Camac was also confronted about a record produced by Rice’s attorneys purporting to show a check made out to him by Rice, which attorney Andrew Turro said was accompanied by a thank you note from Rice. Camac said he had no memory of receiving or cashing such a check or a thank you note.
One witness for the commission, steward Braulio Baeza Jr., was not examined Thursday due to time constraints. He is expected to testify next week. Two days are allotted next week for Rice’s attorneys to present their case, with an additional day allowed if needed. A timeline has not been given for a decision after the conclusion of the hearings.