ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Linda Rice acknowledged giving cash tips to members of the New York Racing Association racing office and gate crew, mostly at Christmas time, over a five-year period from 2010-14, but denied that the money was in exchange for special treatment such as the receipt of confidential information from the racing office when entering horses.
Rice also acknowledged that she gave the racing office and gate crew gratuities after she shared the 2011 Belmont Park spring/summer trainer’s title with Todd Pletcher and that she gave out a combined $7,400 in checks to 73 people following the 2009 Saratoga meet, in which she became the first female to win a trainer’s title at that prestigious meet.
Rice said she gave two loans, totaling $1,800, to Jose Morales Jr., a former racing clerk who was the primary person that Rice gave her entries to for a period of time when he worked in the racing office at NYRA from 2008-14. Rice had known Morales years before when Jose Morales Sr. was a jockey agent for Art Madrid, who Rice once dated. Jose Morales Jr., a key witness in this hearing, has a case before the Gaming Commission that has been pending for three years.
Rice testified Wednesday on the fifth day of her hearing brought by the New York State Gaming Commission, which is alleging that Rice has committed corrupt and improper acts and practices in relation to racing, from on or about the 2011-12 Aqueduct winter meet through March 15.
The Gaming Commission alleges that Rice received the names and past performances of horses entered in races that Rice was planning to or the racing office was hoping she would enter horses in. Over a three-month period – from Oct. 9, 2013 through Jan. 2, 2014 – there were 74 e-mails that included past performances of horses entered in races before those races were drawn – sent from Morales to Rice introduced earlier in the hearing.
The commission also alleges that Rice paid substantial sums of money for that information.
Following four days of testimony from Gaming Commission witnesses, Wednesday was the beginning of Rice’s defense. The hearings have been held in the Belmont room on the second floor at Belmont Park. The hearing officer in the case is Clark Petschek.
Rice said from 2010-14 she would give one member of the racing office – Morales – and one member of the gate crew – Mike McMullen – envelopes of cash to be dispersed to members of those departments. Rice said she gave $2,000 for the racing office and $2,400 to the gate crew, believing it would average out to $200 per person. She stopped the practice in 2015.
Rice said she would give the envelopes to Morales for the racing office and said “please give it to the racing office people, thank them, and wish them a Merry Christmas.”
Rice said when she would give the envelope to McMullen she told him “please spread it amongst the gate crew thank them for their time and patience and wish them a Merry Christmas.”
When asked by her attorney, Andrew Turro, “did you make any payments to induce anyone to do anything special for you?” Rice simply said “No.”
In 2009, Rice wrote checks to 73 individuals – members of the racing department, the gate crew, horsemen’s relations, jockey valets, clockers, and others – totaling $7,400 to celebrate her Saratoga trainer’s title. Racing office and gate crew personnel each got $200, while everybody else got $50.
“When I got back to Belmont I wanted to share my excitement with everyone at NYRA,” Rice said. “I decided to give a gratuity and a thank you note.”
Two racing office personnel – Andrew Byrnes and Bill Nemeti – did not cash their checks. Byrnes, NYRA’s long-time stakes coordinator, testified in this case on Nov. 4 that he did not feel comfortable accepting the money.
Earlier in the day, Rice testified that racing officials, from 2011-13 when there was a perceived shortage of horses, called her and other trainers with more frequency to try and hustle horses into races. Rice said racing office staff would provide more information such as descriptions of horses who were in the race and at times names and past performances.
“The hustling of races became much more aggressive,” Rice said. “They gave out a lot of information, more information than they were accustomed to giving out. It was a terrible struggle for the racing office to fill a card five days a week.”
Rice also said that sometimes members of the racing department would get aggressive when attempting to hustle horses. She specifically named Trinity Galarza, who previously worked in the racing office as an assistant racing secretary.
“When I didn’t go in these races she’d call me and be pretty abrasive,” Rice said. “If I had entered in a race and it was not going to fill . . . they’d need help to fill a different race. ‘We need your help in the fourth.’ When I did not put a horse in, the assistant was pretty aggressive. If I didn’t respond to the entry clerks in a positive manner, she was pretty aggressive.”
Trainers Jeremiah Englehart and Jimmy Ferraro both testified on Rice’s behalf. Both trainers talked about getting information, mostly verbally and not electronically, about races the racing office was trying to fill.
Englehart testified that there are other ways to get past performances of horses and that just a trainer doing their homework would be able to get an idea of which horses would be pointing to specific races. He said he pays $200 per month for an online program that allows him to access past performances for any horse he wants to see.
While Englehart testified that he was never sent past performances electronically by the racing office, he indicated he might have accepted them if offered.
“I couldn’t have said I wouldn’t have used it if they were wanting help to fill races,” Englehart said. “There were times where I had information that was given to me because they were looking to bulk up their field size.”
When specifically asked if the information Rice was given constituted cheating, Englehart said, “If it was brought to me, I don’t believe so.”