On the fifth day of a hearing into alleged rule violations by top New York trainer Linda Rice, Rice’s attorney began laying the framework of his defense. Rice is accused of “actions inconsistent with and detrimental to the best interest of racing generally ad corrupt and improper acts and practices in relation to racing,” according to the New York State Gaming Commission. An investigation by the gaming commission determined that Rice received horse names and past performance information prior to draw time for a number of races between 2011 and 2015, and that she provided payments to members of the racing office staff in exchange for that information.
Attorney Andrew Turro, who represents Rice, reiterated his view that Rice did not violate a specific rule on the books at the time either with the New York Racing Association (NYRA) or the commission by taking the information, but also said Wednesday that Rice’s payments to racing office staff weren’t bribes.
“To use an overworked phrase, there’s simply no quid pro quo,” said Turro in his opening statement for Rice’s defense. “The evidence received today, and the evidence that will continue to be presented to this court will establish the undeniable truth — that the money Miss Rice gave to the racing office officials to the starting gate crew and virtually everyone who worked at the track were merely gestures of sincere appreciation and never an inducement to anything.”
Rice began her testimony Wednesday by going over her financial records from the time in question, showing a series of checks made out to individuals in the racing office, the starting gate crew, jockeys’ valets, and chief examining veterinarian Dr. Anthony Verderosa which she wrote after winning the Saratoga meet title in 2009. Later, Rice said she gave checks and later cash to the entire racing office staff and starting gate crew via entry clerk Jose Morales. Morales has admitted to providing Rice with the information in question. Those payments were intended to be Christmas gifts, Rice said, and were typically $200 or a bit more, depending upon the number of people employed in each department at the time. Rice said she later learned there was a cap of $75 allowed as gratuity for NYRA employees after the gate crew were called before the stewards for taking larger tips from jockeys.
Also on Wednesday, Turro called trainers Jeremiah Englehart and James Ferraro to learn more about their experiences with the racing office, particularly during times when there was a shortage of horses available to fill races in New York. Previous testimony from senior racing office officials stated that entry clerks are not permitted to give out the name of a horse or name of a trainer when “hustling” entries for a race with a small field. They are permitted to divulge information about the expected pace or comparative talent of horses entered in a race pre-draw, even giving out specifics such as a rival’s recent finish positions.
But Ferraro and Englehart say they have been given the names of trainers and horses pre-draw if a clerk is pushing to get a race filled. Englehart also said he uses a software program which helps him keep track of what conditions his horses are eligible for; the program also lets him review previous races with similar conditions, giving him a good idea which horses could be entered in a given allowance or claiming race. Englehart estimated that when entries are released for a race with eight horses, he will have correctly guessed the identities of five of them, on average.
Ferraro and Englehart also said they learn about the entries in an upcoming race from jockeys’ agents, who may be aware of horses their clients are riding.
When questioned by counsel for Rice and the commission, Englehart seemed to have complex feelings about what Rice had done.
“I’ve competed against Linda for a long time and I have a lot of respect for how hard she works, how hard it is or might have been for her to rise to the place she’s at right now,” he told Turro. “I think it’s just not fair to think we’re going to throw a career away because of a misjudgment. There’s a lot of people out there that might not be good in the game and we need to focus on that.”
Under asked by commission attorney Rick Goodell whether Rice received an unfair advantage, Englehart also said this–
“If Linda was receiving emails when no one else was, and I’m not 100 percent sure no one else was, maybe it isn’t a one-time happening … knowing it’s frowned upon now I would say no it’s not fair, but at the time I stand by what I said before and I don’t know if I wouldn’t have done the same thing.”
While Morales, a longtime acquaintance of Rice, characterized the gratuities and a couple of loans from Rice as consideration for the information he provided her, Turro depicted the relationship differently. Rice knew the Morales family many years and was close to them at a time several years ago when a car accident killed one of Jose’s teenaged siblings.
“I knew his lifestyle was — he was having a lot of problems as far as drinking, driving, domestic issues with his wife and whatnot,” Rice said. “I felt sorry for him because his life was somewhat of a mess. I always thought I knew, possibly, why.”
Turro also laid the groundwork for his closing argument, which will be that the commission should not suspend or revoke Rice’s license — both options on the table for the hearing officer according to the commission.
“I’ll urge that justice be done and the nightmare my client has been living through can end,” he said. “I will urge the hearing officer to allow her to continue training without further interruption.”
The hearing will continue Thursday.