ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Linda Rice on Thursday concluded two days of testimony under direct examination, downplaying the significance of information sent to her by New York Racing Association employees about races she was considering entering horses in that had yet to be drawn and denying that she paid money to get that information.
Rice’s license is under review by the New York State Gaming Commission which has alleged that Rice committed “corrupt and improper acts and practices in relation to racing,” beginning in the winter of 2011-12 through March 2015. Those practices include receiving past performance information in races that she was considering entering or asked to enter in by the NYRA racing department. The commission also alleges that she paid substantial sums of money for that information.
A lot of the case has centered on approximately 75 emails sent by Jose Morales Jr., at the time a NYRA entry clerk, to Rice over a three-month period in late 2013. Those e-mails included past performances of horses that had been entered in races Rice was considering entering or was being asked, or hustled, to enter in by NYRA, before those races were drawn.
When asked by her attorney, Andrew Turro, on Thursday how much those e-mails influenced her decision to enter horses in a race, Rice said “Not very much.”
Rice said she would use the information more so when a race she originally entered a horse in did not fill but there was a different race on a different day for which that horse was eligible.
“If I saw a race the following day or two days later that the horse meets the condition but I didn’t have a chance to do any work on the race . . . then I would ask [Morales] how does that race look? Can I take a look at it? And decided if I fit in this race or don’t fit in it,” Rice said.
Rice’s attorneys have argued that there are no NYRA or Gaming Commission rules that specifically state what information a racing department official can or cannot give to a trainer when asking that trainer to enter a horse in a race.
In an emotional opening statement he made Wednesday, Turro said Rice “faces the challenge of her life. The career she worked so hard to build – all the blood, the sweat, and tears she has invested in her life’s work over the past 35 years are now threatened by a claimed violation of a supposed rule that ironically never made it into anyone’s rulebook.”
Rice received e-mails from Morales from Oct. 9, 2013, through Jan. 2, 2014. Records indicate that Rice had horses in 109 races at NYRA tracks during that period. Of the approximate 75 races for which she allegedly received past performances, Rice said she competed in 23 races and won three. Two of those wins came on Dec. 19, 2013, at Aqueduct.
Wednesday, Rice testified that money she gave NYRA employees – mostly to those in the racing department and the starting gate crew – was for tips at Christmas. She did this starting in 2010 for a period of four or five years. Rice testified she didn’t recall exactly if she gave those gratuities in 2014. After she won the Saratoga trainer’s title in 2009 and when she shared the Belmont Park spring/summer title in 2011, Rice also gave money to the racing office and gate crew in celebration of those achievements.
Rice again answered “no” when asked for a second straight day by Turro if she gave anybody money in exchange for special treatment.
Morales was the key witness among nine witnesses the Gaming Commission called over four days beginning Nov. 3. Morales and Rice knew each other for a long time because Morales’ father was a jockey agent for Art Madrid, whom Rice dated three decades ago.
Rice became reacquainted with Morales when he went to work at NYRA in August 2008. Rice testified on Wednesday that on two occasions she loaned Morales money – totaling $1,800. On Thursday, Rice said she gave Morales “a couple of hundred dollars” when he asked her for money to go to Florida where he was hoping to become a jockey’s agent.
Rice gave Morales that money despite the fact he had never paid her back for two previous loans.
“He was a kid that was struggling, life’s a mess, [he was a] family friend, I liked his father and I felt sorry for him,” Rice testified when asked by her attorney why she gave Morales money.
During his testimony on Nov. 3, Morales said that when he first started taking entries from her that Rice told him, “You help me, I’ll help you.”
On Thursday, Rice tried to explain that conversation. She said that one day Morales hustled her to enter a horse in a race and upon reviewing the field Rice determined the race to be too tough, so she scratched the horse. While Rice said she understands the job of the racing office to hustle horses into races, she said she at least wants to be in spots where her horse has a chance.
“I said ‘Jose, I’ll help you, but you got to help me,’ ” Rice testified. “In other words, when you’re asking me for horses on a daily basis, you can’t be calling and putting me in these races where they don’t belong.”
Trainers called on Rice’s behalf have testified that racing office employees have given other trainers pertinent information regarding a race when trying to get them to enter a horse in a race. On Wednesday, NYRA-based trainers Jeremiah Englehart and Jimmy Ferraro gave their own examples of how the racing office would hustle them for horses. Both testified that while they were verbally given information about a particular race, they never received past performances by fax or e-mail.
To date, Rice has only been questioned by her attorneys and has not been subject to cross examination by Rick Goodell, attorney for the Gaming Commission.
That is expected to take place Dec. 9, the next scheduled day of testimony in this case.
Following the conclusion of the case, hearing officer Clark Petschek will have a minimum of 30 days to file a report and recommendation of any penalty that should be assessed against Rice to the Gaming Commission. The Gaming Commission then can uphold or amend any penalties assessed.