Judge Rules Against NYRA in Horse Owner’s Lawsuit

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There are certain inherent risks to horse racing, but a New York state judge ruled recently that the New York Racing Association may not use the doctrine of assumption of risk in all cases.

Queens County Judge Augustus C. Agage of the New York Supreme Court dismissed NYRA’s defense that horse owner Jacob Haddad understood the risk when his 3-year-old filly Salsa Mambo was euthanized following a July 15, 2012, race at Belmont Park. The filly, carrying a $75,000 claiming tag in the optional claiming race, stumbled at the start, throwing jockey Cornelio Velasquez to the turf, then followed the field around the inner turf course and to the finish of the 1 1/16-mile race.

Then, according to the lawsuit filed by Haddad and attorney Andrew Mollica, outrider Althea Roy “attempted to ‘catch’ the speeding Salsa Mambo by running toward her with her outrider horse at extreme speed.”

Salsa Mambo went to the outside of the course and jumped a bush entering the area between the inner turf and the outer Widener turf course. In that area, the suit alleges, Salsa Mambo stepped on an exposed sprinkler head or heavy metal plate covering the sprinkler, fracturing her left front leg. She was euthanized by NYRA veterinarian Anthony Verderosa.

The complaint calls the actions by outrider Roy as “unwarranted, irresponsible and dangerous” and alleges she and other NYRA outriders “were not hired based on any cognizable criteria; were not trained and skilled to the necessary level, much less adequately supervised, to properly perform the duties of protecting the safety of horses and riders on-track; were completely unsupervised in their activities and were never assessed in the performance of their duties against any objective performance standard.”

It also claims NYRA should have known the absence of an outside rail on the inner turf course was “extremely dangerous and a deviation from industry standards and protocols, as well as a deviation from NYRA’s responsibility as set forth in its franchise agreement.”

As a result of what the complaint said is negligence on NYRA’s part, plaintiff Haddad is seeking a jury trial and damages in excess of $500,000 in future purse earnings and residual value as a broodmare or broodmare prospect.

NYRA offered several defenses in pretrial communications, foremost among them Haddad’s assumption of risk. That defense was dismissed, and the case moves forward.

“There is no evidence whatsoever,” Judge Agate wrote, “that plaintiff could have expected that the horse at issue to have been injured in the manner as occurred in this case. The horse did not break down from exhaustion or suffer a malady due to an underlying physical condition. Instead, it appears the horse was injured when a seemingly unskilled outrider chased the horse to an unsafe area where it collided and injured itself. Moreover, this court has found no authority for the proposition that the doctrine of assumption of the risk is applicable in actions to recover damages for injury to property.”

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  • Tinky

    “attorney Andrew Mollica” aka Drew Mollica, former (successful) jockey agent. He was tenacious (some would argue to the point of irritation) in his previous role, and that quality is likely serving him well in his new profession.

    Always nice to see a racetracker make a successful career change.

    • Don Reed

      Drew can be diplomatic, but those of us who mistake this for his being malleable are in for a rude surprise.

  • Jen

    I’m happy NYRA was held responsible. It seems clearly the outrider’s fault and this could have been avoided with some better strategy. Those outriders love to showboat, which I understand, but their actions need to be in service of the horse’s safety first and foremost. Very sad for that horse who was killed and her owners.

  • Lou Baranello Former Steward

    Good work Drew!

  • Don Reed

    A reminder: Unlike other states, the “New York Supreme Court” is not the state’s
    “supreme” court, as in, the last state court to hear a case. It is the initial court where litigation begins. Should the verdict be appealed, this issue will be dragged out for quite some time to come.

  • Cangamble

    No matter how this ends up, I’m perplexed at valuing the horse at anything higher than $75,000. The reality is the horse was in for a $75,000 tag and not claimed. So she wasn’t even worth $75,000 to anyone else when she had her very unfortunate accident. When people claim horses they take into account the potential future earnings of the horse, not even profits so much, but earnings. Many claims are made on the hope that the horse has a reasonable to chance just to break even, and most don’t accomplish that.

    • greg

      You always sue for more, I agree, the owner should get the $75k claiming price, and the court will say “you placed the horses “value” at $75k when you entered her to possibly be sold for that amount, if she was worth the $500k as you state you took on that risk voluntarily thus that is what you shall receive” mark it and watch

      • Cangamble

        Just because the owner placed the value at 75k doesn’t make the horse worth 75k. The fact is nobody thought the horse was worth the 75k either or there would have been a claim slip in on her.

    • nybredfilly96

      You are only referencing the ‘value’ of the animal, you have to consider potential future (lost) earnings, and they have every right to sue for more. $500k might be on the high side but as greg mentioned you always sue for more.

      • Cangamble

        When you value a horse, or just about anything business for sale, it is based on future earnings potential. Sure, anyone can sue for as much as they want to, but reality is that the horse had a value of less than $75,000 in the real market. And horses running for tags are generally overpriced or we would see a lot more claims.

        • nybredfilly96

          you can’t compare the claiming price to ‘anything business for sale’ This business is a whole different animal..

          • Cangamble

            The only difference is that prices are inflated because people are buying the dream. This horse was in an optional claiming race, the outfit chose to run for a tag, nobody bit. If she didn’t have a claiming tag, then her valuation could be questioned more as far as upside. She was 46-1 too, so she was running over her head most probably. When taking into account value of a horse, you consider, does this horse have a chance to get me my original investment. How long will it take, ie, how many expenses will I pay by the time I get close to even on the horse. Again, buyers wanted no part of her at 75,000, so she wasn’t worth that. If she ran a freakishly great race (obviously not unseating until after the race, then an upside argument could be made as well, as her value might have gone up, however by ducking like that, her next start would have been tops 40k, and most likely nobody would have claimed her if she survive the tragic race).

          • Concernedhorseowner

            Just attorneys help ruining this country. Not saying NYRA should be held harmless, as I question some of the out riders and some of staff that put the horses in the gate ( I should hope there is some training)…..but if you put a horse in a 75k why should you ask for 500k?…unless you feel NYRA intentionally set this up to kill the horse! RIDICULOUS!

          • Tonto

            So what if she wasn’t claime3d, very few horses are. She was a young mare and had years of racing/breeding in front of her.

          • Cangamble

            It makes all the difference in the world. You can buy another horse of equal future value and potential for less than $75,000 since nobody was willing to pay that amount before the race. Yeah, all horses have a lottery ticket aspect to them, but try selling a ticket you paid $1 for for anything more than a buck before a lottery on the basis that it could be worth millions. No, that ticket is worth a buck tops.
            Any lawyer will have no problem destroying the future value argument here, and if they do any research at all, they could probably peg the horses value at 35k absolutely tops.

  • Bandit’s Mom

    Jen, have you ever been on the back of a horse? Showboating? Oh,please,lord help us.
    So maybe the owners of ,Jackson Bend should be suing and how many more. It was a case of a filly out of control,period. A sad accident,period. Those showboaters also save lives!

    • Mimi Hunter

      Maybe not showboating but sure not doing it right. There is no way you’ll stop a runaway by running right at him. In general the outriders I’ve seen could use a course in herd dynamics at the least – and I don’t mean that as a put down – it just isn’t used on race tracks – or a lot of other places where getting animals moved is important. Running directly at the filly issued a direct challenge – she was already spooked so she bolted. Should have gotten close without a direct charge and then turn to be going in the same direction and then get close – the outcome may not have been any different – but it would have been worth the try. I don’t believe in suing for everything so I won’t comment on that.

      • Loves#1Ruffian

        dwA very sad event for all..the death of a beautiful and innocent animal should be the primary consideration to all! First of all let’s pretend that comment due to the absurd was never mentioned. The most legendary of jockeys have and will continue to take a spill and so it shall always be.The outrider is entrusted to perform a needed job…one that has many times saved the day and should be respected for the most part. The problem at hand was mentioned several times. There is no need for the few reckless showboats. Extremely bad fr the horse and bad for horse racing! Those unfamiliar with raci.g leave with a bad perception of racing.Track employee’s are under payed and often unqualified for the very same reason.The NYRA should qyalify each and every employee who has the privelesge to work with these great and precious animals. That is a great rresponsabiliy which rrquires a, equitable pay which has always been to the shame of racetracks everywhere. If for no other reason than the safety of these animals from whom they make their money.. I hope they are made to pay dearly and that this will in turn cause all tracks to to qualify, certify and pay the people the wages deserved. FoFor if this happens Salsa Mambo will not have died in vain If nothing else we owe it to these precious amazing animals to never again be subjected to the circus of the unskilled showboats.

        • Mimi Hunter

          Are entry level jobs low on both pay and education? Sure – always. Would education/training of the outriders made any difference in the outcome? It was a contributing factor but probably wouldn’t have changed things – a panicky horse is almost impossible to deal with – it sounds like there were a lot of things involved in this incident. All this ruling did was stop the law suit from being dropped because the owner had accepted the risk by entering the race. It’s still a long way from a ruling against NYRA.
          Panicky horses are not easy to deal with. They want only one thing – to get gone from where ever they are at that moment. They’ll run ‘blind’ – just not caring where they’re going; bash their heads in against a wall because they’re too close to it to get up; fight against restraints until they die, etc. It’s not fun, it’s not safe, and it’s heartbreaking to watch.

          Did you ever see Ruffian? I never did in person, but I watched on TV as she broke down in that match race. I knew horses sometimes didn’t come out of anesthesia very well – they fight being restrained and they panic if you can’t calm them. I still didn’t expect to wake up to the news that she had rebroken her leg and had done even worse to the other one and had to be put down. Ruffian was the last horse I bet on.

  • Disgusted

    Why don’t the morons sue Cornelio too? Since he was “unskilled” enough to fall off.
    Had the outrider not attempted to catch the horse, the owners would be pissed that he didn’t try.
    Was the horse insured? Probably not. If she was, I doubt this trial would have happened.

    MONEY HUNGRY PIGS!

  • HogHater

    Pretty sure that Jake Haddad has been one of the partners in Ragozin Data (The Sheets) since April of 2012. If it is the same guy, he’s claimed and managed some very successful runners in his day.

  • stixnstones42

    Another case initiated by a graduate of the University of Mars Law School.

  • gg

    What a wonderful finding by the Judge. NYRA seems to have a “no one can touch us” outlook and needs to realize they can be held accountable for such obvious mis-use of authority and lack of resonsibility to the horses on their premises.

  • jorge

    I can’t believe what I am reading. These outriders put their life on the line to help stave off disaster. They have seconds to make a decision. This same idiot would sue NYRA if the outrider failed to respond. Money hungry pig. Throw him out!!!

  • Randy P

    I’m sure in hind sight the outrider would be as smart as the rest of us?

  • Concerned Observer

    If you have been on the track day after day, you have seen outriders show some extreme feats of skill as well as some incredible acts of stupidity. The biggest concern is the macho out-rider that wants to prove what a hero he is…..applause please. That guy is scary. Every track has one.
    If there is no dangerous threat, why the need for a bulldogging style rundown and catch….why? Buddy accolades.

  • Tonto

    About time the ‘help’ at the track was held responsible for stupid. They are incompetent and careless and are a hazard to both horses and other personnel. Outriders need to be mounted and able to ‘pick up’ a loose horse- running one off the track is the “new” system.

  • Mick

    Was a blood sample taken of this horse? If so, did it match Jane Cibelli’s?

  • Larry Ensor

    IMO outriders are paid to have foresight and understand the repercussions of their actions. This comes with experience, but the education should be learned by watching from the sidelines and studying others mistakes, cause and effect. Not on the job.
    I am not passing judgment in this particular incident. I was not there nor have a I seen a video replay. But I have seen plenty of bone headed, rodeo, hot dogging situations. It has been my experience that less is more in most situations. Be it a loose horse on the track or one in the barn. IMO people in general over react and make the situation worse.

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