On the sixth day of a hearing examining her receipt of information from the New York Racing Association (NYRA) racing office, trainer Linda Rice said the emails provided to her by entry clerk Jose Morales had minimal impact on her decisions about which races to enter or the results of those races.
Rice continued her testimony started Wednesday before a hearing officer as part of the proceedings, which will determine whether her actions were “inconsistent with and detrimental to the best interests of racing generally” or were “improper acts and practices relating to racing” according to state rules. An investigation by the New York State Gaming Commission uncovered evidence that between 2011 and 2015, Rice received faxes and emails from former entry clerks Jose Morales and Matt Salvato, giving her the names and past performance records of horses prior to draw time. Senior racing office management has said the names of trainers and horses in a given race are not to be released until after a race is drawn (with stakes races being the exception).
On Thursday, Rice described the circumstances around her first getting this type of information from Morales. As the horse shortage in New York began to worsen, Rice remembered that racing office personnel became more aggressive about “hustling” races, or trying to convince trainers to enter their horses. She recalled being in the racing office several times when a clerk would print out current entries with horse names and past performance records and let her look at the sheet. She also said she witnessed this happening with other trainers.
Rice said she often asked NYRA stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes to provide her lists of stakes nominations along with an idea of which horses were probables for a stakes race, which is not considered confidential information. She recalled one morning when Morales called to say he had faxed her this information on a stakes race she’d requested, along with entry and past performance information for a race she hadn’t asked about, which he was tasked with hustling.
“I thought for a second, ‘That’s odd,’” she said. “But I’d already had him slide the races across the desk in the racing office and seen other racing clerks do it so I didn’t think much of it.”
Rice is accused of receiving this information on an ongoing basis, both for races Morales was hustling and for races she requested to see. Morales initially faxed the information to Rice’s office but switched to using email when the fax machine was out of order one morning. Fax transmission records are no longer kept from the period of time in question, so the commission’s evidence focused on copies of emails accessed by investigators.
Rice revealed that of 74 or 75 emails with race information, she entered horses in 23 of the races included in those emails. She won three of those races. Rice said there were around 80 races on the NYRA circuit she entered during the same period of time for which she did not receive any information from Morales. For the period of time covered by the emails, Rice said she won 16 percent of her races, a bit lower than her usual 20 percent.
There were many factors that determined whether or not Rice would enter a horse in one of the races for which Morales provided entry information. She said she typically points horses at races two or three weeks ahead of time and is not inclined to change the horse’s program just because the office is hustling a race. She also bases some of those decisions on whether or not a preferred rider is available, in addition to the usual factors like a horse’s performance in workouts, physical condition, etc.
Rice also addressed testimony from earlier in the hearing that she had a tendency to enter a race and then later swap out one horse for another. This wasn’t due to any insider info from Morales, Rice said, but more likely because turf races would attract so many entries that the racing office would give preference to horses who had not yet run at the meet. If she learned a race was oversubscribed and her entry had already run at the meet, she might swap another horse in that was more likely to make the final cut.
Andrew Turro, Rice’s attorney, completed questioning the trainer at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing. Thursday had originally been scheduled as the final day for the hearing, but commission counsel has not yet had a chance to cross examine her, or to present any rebuttal evidence. An additional two days have been blocked out to conclude the hearing Dec. 9 and 10. No timeframe has been provided as to when the hearing officer may make a decision in the case.
Read previous coverage of the Rice hearing here.