When I visited Tampa Bay Downs last March, owners and trainers I spoke with were up in arms over the lack of action by track management against trainer Jane Cibelli, whose veterinarian, Dr. Orlando Paraliticci, was caught illegally injecting a pain blocking agent into the right front leg of one of Cibelli's horses on the morning it was to race. Paraliticci was banned from Tampa Bay one week after the incident and subsequently suspended 90 days by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, the state's regulatory agency. To date, no action has been taken by the state or Tampa Bay Downs against Cibelli, who has both a personal and business relationship with track vice president of marketing and publicity, Margo Flynn.
Sentiment then among horsemen and women we spoke with was that Tampa Bay Downs management was sweeping the incident under the rug because of Cibelli's relationship with Flynn. It is an allegation vice president and general manager Peter Berube vehemently denies.
Shortly after the January incident occurred, Reid Nagle, a Thoroughbred owner and trainer who was founder and CEO of the financial information company SNL Financial, wrote a letter to Tampa Bay Downs owner Stella Thayer, urging her to handle the matter appropriately and take further steps to crack down on perceived cheating that has allowed certain trainers to win races at uncommonly high percentages.
Eight months later, Nagle has written the following open letter to Thayer and Berube, explaining why he has opted not to return to Tampa Bay Downs and is urging others to do the same.
Dear Ms. Thayer and Mr. Berube:
I've raced at Tampa Bay Downs for the past three seasons (having obtained my trainers license in September 2010) and stabled there for the past two. For the 2011-12 meet, I had 10 wins, both as owner and trainer, and ranked as the fourth-leading owner. At the end of the meet, I introduced myself to Peter Berube, outside his office, thanked him for providing such a fun racing venue, and told him that I planned to be around for the next 20 years. During last year's meet, I had seven wins, again as owner and trainer, and ranked as the ninth-leading owner. But this time, I finished the year in a very different frame of mind.
If you recall, only a few days after Jane Cibelli's veterinarian was caught blocking the leg of one of her horses running that same day, I sent Ms. Thayer a letter. While I speak only for myself, it seemed clear to me that how Tampa Bay Downs responded to the Cibelli situation was something owners, trainers and bettors would be watching closely. What owner or trainer wants to compete with someone who is cheating, apparently with the tacit endorsement of management, meaning that honest owners and trainers are running for second- or third-place money at best, particularly at a track that's known for its parsimonious purses? And what bettor in his or her right mind wants to participate in a game that he or she believes is rigged, all with the tacit endorsement of track management?
Tampa Bay Downs' response to the Cibelli situation could not have been more disappointing. They ruled the vet off the track within days, but Jane Cibelli, despite the well-known trainer responsibility rule, continued racing for the remaining three months of the meet. When questioned by Ray Paulick, Peter Berube made the false claim that the state's handling of the case tied their hands. Well Peter Berube, to that I say “horse caca.”
Meanwhile, Cibelli's domestic partner, Margo Flynn, vice president of marketing for Tampa Bay Downs, continued to perform both her daytime job and her apparent nighttime job of managing Ms. Cibelli's books. And eight months later, no disciplinary action has been taken against the trainer. In England, within days of such an infraction, the offending trainer would have been banned for life, and a strong signal would have been sent to other cheats and potential cheats.
When Gulfstream Park announced this summer that they'd have year-round racing, I decided that 20 more years racing against the cheaters endorsed by Tampa Bay Downs didn't make a lot of sense. I applied for stalls at Gulfstream, and Jeff Noe and his team graciously accommodated my request for four stalls. Most of my horses are based at Oak Ridge Equine Training Center north of Ocala, and I rotate them between the training facility and the primary track where I race, which is now Gulfstream (and decidedly not Tampa).
I encourage others – bettors, trainers and owners – to make the switch as well. There should be no room in this sport for cheating, and especially for cheaters who are caught and given a free get-out-of-jail card. Without effective regulation and oversight, the only way to get this message across is for bettors and horsemen who want an honest sport to vote with their feet, hooves and dollars.
Reid Nagle, Trainer
Big Lick Farm
Morriston, FL 32668
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