Trial begins for ejected Pennsylvania owner, trainer
When the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission issued ejection notices to owner Michael Gill and his principal trainer, Anthony Adamo, on Feb. 2, 2010, to vacate Penn National racetrack, it did so with the rationale that the continued participation and presence of Gill and Adamo at the Grantville, Pa., track would “become inconsistent with the orderly conduct of the race meeting and is therefore inconsistent with the best interests of racing.”
The commission dispatched the ejection notices after 31 Penn National jockeys said they would not participate in races in which Gill-owned, Adamo-trained horses were entered to run Feb. 3. The executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association also sent a letter to the commission after compiling a list of trainers who said they would not run their horses in races in which Gill’s horses were entered on Feb. 3. Prior to those letters being received by the commission, Penn National Gaming Inc. sent a letter in late January asking for an investigation into a “previous refusal” by jockeys to ride in races in which Gill’s horses were participating and the “potential issues involving the integrity of the racing product.”
The threatened boycott by jockeys and trainers came after a number of horses owned by Gill suffered catastrophic injuries during Penn National races in late 2009 and early 2010.
But in a trial that begins today in United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Judge Sylvia H. Rambo will hear arguments from legal counsel for Gill and Adamo that the two men’s constitutional rights to procedural due process and equal protection under the law were violated by the racing commission.
Gill and Adamo filed suit in November 2010 and named as defendants in the civil rights complaint Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission chairman Corinne Sweeney; commissioners John Hannum and Raymond Hamm; former commission acting executive secretary Michael Dillon; the commission’s director of operations Joseph Mushalko; and its director of racing enforcement, Walter Remmert.
The two men are seeking judgment for alleged “deprivation of … federally guaranteed rights, for pain and suffering, for embarrassment and humiliation, for fees, attorney’s fees, punitive damages, and for an unspecified amount including interest in compensation for the damage done” to Adamo’s career as a trainer and “financial damage done” to Gill’s horse business.
Shortly after the eviction notices were served, Gill dispersed his approximately 190 horses, 49 of which were stabled at Penn National and the balance at his Chester County, Pa., training farm.
Gill was coming off a year in 2009 that saw him win 370 races and earn over $6.6 million, the complaint says, adding that over $3 mllion of that total was won at Penn National.
“The profits his horses made at Penn National subsidized the rest of Gill’s horse operation,” the complaint reads.
Adamo won 143 races from 898 starts for earnings of $2,951,584 in 2009, according to Equibase. By 2010, his numbers fell to 20 wins from 125 starts and $311,910, and by 2011 he won just two races from six stars, for $22,116. He’s had no runners in 2012.
The suit calls the threatened boycott by jockeys and trainers as “illegal” under 58 Pa Code Sec. 163.173 and 165.216. “Gill and Adamo were not violating any regulations by entering their horses for the races of Feb. 3, 2010,” the complaint says.
“To this day,” it alleges, neither Adamo nor Gill have “not been told what (they) did to warrant ejection.”
While the commission ejected Gill and Adamo from one Pennsylvania racetrack, Penn National, it permitted them to continue to race at another, Parx Racing (formerly Philadelphia Park). The same jockeys who threatened to boycott Penn National races rode against the same Gill-Adamo horses at other tracks until Gill sold his bloodstock interests, according to the lawsuit.
Remmert and Mushalko were named in the complaint as a result of their role in suspending Adamo’s license indefinitely after he refused to travel from Fort Erie racetrack in Canada to Harrisburg, Pa., to be interviewed as part of an ongoing investigation in which he was told he was not a target. The complaint says statute requires the commission to pay travel expenses but refused to do so.
Attorney Alan Pincus is representing Gill and Adamo in the trial that is expected to last four days.