It was no dream team that Michael Gill assembled to run his racing operation in Pennsylvania over the past year, at both his farm in Oxford, Pa., and at Penn National race course near the state capital of Harrisburg. In fact, the cast of felons and rule breakers working for Gill has proven to be a regulatory nightmare for the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission charged with policing the sport in the Keystone State.
In the wake of the highly publicized decision Jan. 23 by Penn National jockeys to boycott races with Gill-owned runners, track management has asked the moribund racing commission to investigate allegations by the jockeys that horses prepared by Gill's two principal trainers present a safety risk and have suffered a high number of catastrophic racing injuries. But, by law, there's only so much the racing commission can do, even if the commissioners and top executives took their jobs seriously.
The commission can conduct post-mortem examinations on the horses that died while racing at Penn National. It can search the barn and interview employees at the track where Gill's horses were, until the Jan. 23 incident, trained by Darrel Delahoussaye. But it cannot conduct any kind of investigation at Gill's Elk Creek Ranch, where as many as 140 racehorses have been stabled and trained since Gill, a New Hampshire-based mortgage executive, reemerged as a racehorse owner in the second half of 2008 after a two-year hiatus. The commission, a division of the state's Department of Agriculture, has no jurisdiction over “private property.”
Elk Creek Ranch is centrally located in Chester County's horse country in southeast Pennsylvania, roughly 90 minutes from Philadelphia Park, Penn National, Laurel and Charles Town racetracks. It was purchased by Gill out of necessity earlier this decade when an increasing number of tracks opted not to give stalls to Gill or his trainers because of his aggressive claiming tactics. Gill unsuccessfully tried selling the property when he got out of racing in 2006, the year he received an Eclipse Award as the outstanding North American owner. The award recognized the 2005 racing year, the third consecutive year Gill led all North American owners by races and money won. He added a fourth title in 2009, when his stable piled up $6,670,490 in earnings after his horses won 370 of 2,247 starts.
But the 54-year-old Gill has done more than accumulate wins and money from horse racing purses. To go along with his own checkered past in the sport, Gill has assembled a team of trainers, veterinarians and affiliated bloodstock agents that have shown an almost habitual disregard for the rules of racing.
Here are some examples, based on law enforcement records and rulings from the Association of Racing Commissioners International:
-Gill, in the 1980s, was suspended or ineligible for licensing in Massachusetts and New Hampshire on different occasions for financial obligations. He decided to train his own horses in 1995 and was nailed for having injectable drugs, syringes and needles during a barn raid at Rockingham Park. The New Hampshire Racing Commission suspended Gill for three years. When he returned, he left the training to others. Gill's RCI rulings.
-Anthony (Tony) Adamo, Gill's 38-year-old racing manager and one of his trainers, compiled 11 separate violations in 2009, with fines of $3,300—mostly for entering ineligible horses in various races. Adamo, however, has no suspensions or major medication violations on his record during or prior to his association with Gill. Adamo's RCI rulings.
-Trainer Darrel Delahoussaye, a 47-year-old trainer fired by Gill after Laughing Moon's breakdown on Jan. 23 became the catalyst for the jockeys' revolt at Penn National, paid at least $1,500 in fines following eight separate rulings in 2009 against him by the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission.
Delahoussaye had his license revoked by the Louisiana Racing Commission in 1984 following a felony conviction and did not become eligible for reinstatement until 1993. Since then, he has been suspended twice for possession of needles, syringes and injectable drugs—once in Ohio in 1998 and once in Michigan in 2000.
The Ohio Racing Commission also suspended Delahoussaye for one year in 1998 after he was ruled to have “mistreated, abused or engaged in an act of cruelty to a horse; used appliance other than whip for the purpose of stimulating speed.” The appliance was described in court documents as a “wooden stick with stripped electrical cords stuck to it.” A veterinarian and two assistants testified seeing a horse at Beulah Park “jump two or three feet in the air” and then witnessed Delahoussaye unplugging an electrical cord from the wall. Delahoussaye appealed the case but ultimately lost. Delahoussaye's RCI rulings.
-Cole Norman, 41, hired by Gill to train horses stabled at Elk Creek Ranch last summer, served nine months in jail for negligent homicide, a felony, and was released in January 2009. On Feb. 5, 2007, near Hot Springs, Ark., Norman drove head-on into a car driven by 86-year-old Virginia Heath,killing the woman who was a cousin of former President Bill Clinton. Norman, six-time leading trainer at Oaklawn Park, was found to be under the influence of prescription drugs, to which his attorney said he was battling addiction. Prosecutors said seven different drugs were found in Norman's system at the time of the crash. Later that year while out on bail, Norman was again arrested for DUI and drug possession after reportedly sideswiping a row of mailboxes in Louisiana.
But Norman has also compiled a prodigious number of medication violations as a horse trainer. Since 1996, the son of the late trainer Gene Norman, has been assessed fines or suspensions in at least 30 cases involving medication violations in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. In a rare foray to California in 2005, Cole was accused of milkshaking the horse Top Commander in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar. According to the California Horse Racing Board's equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, the total carbon dioxide level (39 millimoles per liter) found in Top Commander was the highest recorded of any horse in the 10 months milkshake testing had been conducted. “At 37, there can be some question (of how the TCO2 reached that level),” said Arthur, “but at 39 no one will argue with you that the horse was milkshaked.” Norman also had two TCO2/milkshake violations in Louisiana in 2006. Other rulings on his RCI rapsheet include possession of unlabeled medication in his tackroom and providing Oaklawn Park's official clocker with incorrect names of horses working out. Norman's RCI rulings.
-Veterinarian Kevin L. Brophy, 55, bases his practice at Penn National, but according to Tony Adamo is also Elk Creek Ranch's principal vet. Brophy has 13 rulings in the RCI database, most recently a $500 fine from the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission for submitting “an inaccurate vet treatment report” for a Gill horse named Monsoor on Oct. 23, the night the son of Mt. Livermore won a $4,000 claiming race at Penn National. After his next race, a Nov. 11 victory carrying a $5,000 tag, Monsoor pulled up lame and has since been sold by Gill to trainer/bloodstock agent Mark Wedig for $1.
Brophy has been fined a number of times during his career for failure to file complete or accurate veterinarian treatment sheets, and on one occasion in 2004 for “submitting a fraudulent treatment slip.” Brophy's RCI rulings.
-Veterinarian Louis A. Grasso, who recently started working on horses from Elk Creek Ranch, was the central figure in two criminal cases involving banned medication and has had to surrender his racing license or had it denied in New York and New Jersey. In 1991, the 53-year-old Grasso, primarily a Standardbred practitioner, was convicted of the federal crime of selling anabolic steroids to an undercover agent. Nine years later, on April 11, 2000, the New York-based Grasso was under surveillance in Delaware while visiting a private racing stable and agents with the office of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs attempted to stop him. A high-speed chase ensued on Delaware's Highway 13, with Newcastle County police eventually pulling him over. According to a source, a “treasure trove” of prohibited drugs, including blood-doping agents, was found. Grasso pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest and put on probation with the threat that any violations may result in charges involving confiscated drugs.
On the matter of Grasso's license being reinstated by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in 2005, a hearing officer ruled against him, saying “undisputed evidence in the case discloses that Dr. Louis A. Grasso has been convicted of serious felony grade crimes and that he has violated the conditions upon which his license was based.” The refusal was based on Grasso's “experience, character and general fitness” being “inconsistent with the public interest.” Grasso's RCI rulings.
-Finally, Mark Wedig, a trainer from West Des Moines, Iowa, is listed on bills of sale as the purchaser of a number of Gill horses in December and January—at a cost of $1 each–that were described to the Paulick Report by a one-time Elk Creek Ranch employee as too lame or too slow to compete. Wedig, 54, had his license suspended for five years by the Iowa Racing Commission, from 2002-07, for “conduct detrimental to racing” for forging signatures on claiming slips and lying to stewards investigating the case. The commission said Wedig acted in a “premeditated, corrupt, deceitful and fraudulent” manner that reflected “negatively on the integrity or best interests” of racing. Wedig's RCI rulings.
DRILLING HORSES INTO THE GROUND
According to an individual at one time employed at Elk Creek Ranch who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Gill's horses have been “drilled into the ground” since the arrival of Cole Norman as the farm's trainer last summer. “Cole is set in his ways,” this person said. “He trains the crap out of them. They breeze every seven days (track condition permitting). They tap the joints of the horses, sometimes right after a race, and they tap ‘em every week, again and again and again if they don't get sound. They are going to the well too many times. You are not supposed to tap a lame horse.”
The Paulick Report checked the references of this Elk Creek Ranch whistleblower, confirming as many of the details provided as possible. We feel confident the information provided is accurate.
Adamo, this individual said, is often the one who does the injections of hyaluronic acid and/or cortisone—a contention Adamo disputes. “Tony only does the upper and lower knee joints and the ankle,” the whistleblower said. “He doesn't do anything behind. He probably would if he had more experience.”
“That's why we have vets there,” Adamo said in response to questions about whether he injects horses on the farm. “We've given pre-race shots, or if a horse is sick we've given Banamine, but that's as far as I'm going to go.
“I'm at Penn National one day at Philly Park one day,” he continued. “Between me and Cole we'll go over the horses and give a list to the doc. Hopefully he does everything on that list. But it's tough to get him there ( to Oxford) every day.”
Adamo defended his record as a trainer as it relates to breakdowns. “I had five breakdowns on all my starts there,” Adamo said of Penn National. “I run just as many horses at Philly Park and had one there. I'm not blaming the racetrack, and I'm not justifying it. One is too many.”
‘I'M NOT DISCUSSING ANYTHING'
According to the Practice Act of Pennsylvania governing veterinary medicine, animal owners or their employees are exempted from the rules requiring that only licensed veterinarians treat an animal, at least on private property. However, racing regulations strictly prohibit a trainer from injecting a horse or to simply be in possession of needles and syringes on racetrack property.
Norman isn't currently licensed as a trainer because of his felony conviction and it isn't clear when he can be reinstated. For the time being, while he is on parole, he is able to train on the farm and send the horses to the track, where they race under Tony Adamo's name as the trainer listed in the program. The racing commission, because it does not have jurisdiction over the farm, isn't able to determine whether or not Norman is the one actually training the horses.
The veterinary supplies are said to have been purchased through Kevin Brophy, who declined to comment to the Paulick Report on any aspect of his relationship to Gill's operation. “I'm not discussing anything,” Brophy said.
Grasso, reached in New York, said he only recently started working on Gill's horses, adding that it doesn't bother him that he can't take his veterinary practice to the racetrack. “I don't even go for it (his license),” Grasso said. “I've got my farm, got a clinic (in Orange County, New York). That's all I need.”
The horses at Gill's farm are well-cared for, the Paulick Report informant said. “If you walk in the barns, you wouldn't say the horses are underfed or neglected. It's more the medical treatments, the tapping or the training of sore horses. It's a shame, because it's a really good group of grooms that take care of the horses.”
That observation was backed up by Gail Emerson, a humane police officer sent in by the Large Animal Protection Society Jan. 29 for a surprise inspection of the Elk Creek Ranch horses after the organization received an anonymous complaint last week. “Everything was perfect,” she told the Paulick Report. “The horses were well fed, with plenty of water. Every horse I went by came to the front of the stall with their ears pricked.”
Yet there have been dozens of horses vanned off the farm to parts unknown in recent months, some of them described by the Elk Creek Ranch whistleblower as “three-legged lame” or with terrible skin or joint infections. “They joke about how these horses are going to the Girl Scouts in Nebraska or to the zoo,” the individual said, the latter a possible reference to the nearby Bravo Packing company in Carney's Point, N.J., a company that makes food for zoo animals out of horse meat. When another employee complained about the jokes, the employee was told, “At least we're not selling them at the (killer) sales; they're going right to the factory.” The Paulick Report has not been presented with any evidence that a large number of Gill's horses have ended up at a Canadian slaughterhouse or at Bravo Packing.
Mark Wedig, the Iowa trainer who described himself as a “small fry,” was listed as the buyer of a number of horses Gill sold for $1 each in December and January, including Monsoor, Shes a Cure, Cotton King, Sir Ray, Devil's Squeeze, My Dance Partner, Phantom Regiment, Taxability, Hector the Connector and Rushing Stag.
Wedig told the Paulick Report he sold Cotton King, said to have a badly infected leg, along with “two mares” to a breeder he knew only as “Charles,” a man Wedig said plans to send the horses to Belize in Central America. Someone whose name he couldn't remember said he wanted to breed Sir Ray to some mares in Iowa. A barrel racer in southwest Iowa got two of the Gill horses from Wedig, who said he didn't have a name or phone number for her. Wedig said he plans to rehab the rest at the In Front training center near Mountaineer Park in West Virginia, then bring them back to the races.
When asked if he ever drove horses to slaughter plants in Canada, Wedig said: “Never.”
In an interview with the Paulick Report last week, Gill said “all of the horses go to retirement programs” when their racing careers end, though he didn't specify which programs or where they are located.
“I don't know if he is naïve, just doesn't care, or thinks the horses are going to retirement and turns a blind eye,” the Elk Creek Ranch whistleblower said of Gill. “He may be a good businessman with mortgages, but he's not with horses.”
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