by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick
It's a common belief that the court system gives a racetrack owner private property rights to exclude anyone it chooses from its premises. That doesn't seem to be the case, however, particularly when the individual being excluded holds a state license to practice his profession on racetrack grounds.

Just last week, Judge Brian R. Hauser, in the Superior Court of Maricopa County in Arizona, issued an under-advisement ruling permitting jockey Enrique Garcia to continue riding at Turf Paradise after the Phoenix track had served him a “Notice of Exclusion” on Dec. 23, 2009. The court on Jan. 28, 2010, had already issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Turf Paradise from excluding Garcia from engaging in his occupation as a licensed jockey, but the most recent order converted the restraining order to a preliminary injunction. Garcia will be able to ride until further notice.

According to Judge Hauser's ruling (which can be viewed here), Turf Paradise management began to suspect in the spring of 2009 that jockey Garcia was also training horses at Turf Paradise without a license. Specifically, it was suspected he was training horses owned by A Double Monkey Stables, although the trainer of record for Double Monkey was someone named Leonard Espinoza. Turf Paradise management suspected Espinoza was merely a “paper trainer,” meaning he lent his name and trainer's license so the stable owner could get stalls at the track.

The ruling said Turf Paradise took no action against any of the parties involved in this activity, nor did it report the apparent rules violations to the Arizona Department of Racing, which oversees licensing and regulations in the state.

In a $3,500 claiming race at 5 1/2 furlongs on Dec. 20, 2009, a horse named I Xcell finished first by 2 3/4 lengths for A Double Monkey Stable at odds of 31-1, with Jose Medina riding instead of Garcia, who had ridden the horse in six previous starts. Garcia rode the 8-5 favorite, Fire Talker, who was last for the first half-mile and passed three horses in the stretch to finish a non-threatening fourth.

Stewards disqualified I Xcell for alleged interference against the original third-place finisher. Equibase chart footnotes of the race said I Xcell “drifted in just slightly passing the sixteenth pole,” but also said the runner-up in the race “drifted out some” near the sixteenth pole, the area where the third-place finisher was “steadied.” Judge Hauser's ruling said the disqualification became a “cause célèbre in the racing community for a time,” and I Xcell's owner has appealed the disqualification.

The owner of Fire Talker testified that Garcia “did not deliberately restrain Fire Talker in the race” and does not “suspect any improper behavior” by the jockey in the race, according to the ruling. “No evidence was presented that Turf Paradise or the racing stewards have accused Garcia of misconduct affecting the race,” the Superior Court ruling said.

However, three days after the race, Garcia was served a “Notice of Exclusion” by Turf Paradise general manager Eugene Joyce, stating that the track is private property and that Garcia “had engaged in conduct detrimental to racing.”

Joyce, according to the court ruling, believed Garcia had hidden ownership in two horses owned by Carlily Ojeda (co-owner of I Xcell), and that Garcia and Ojeda were “romantically involved.” At a hearing, Garcia denied any relationship with Ojeda.
As a result of the circumstances, Joyce testified that he had a problem with Garcia, A Double Monkey Stable owner Miguel Flores, trainer Espinoza and co-owner Ojeda. However, Turf Paradise took no action against anyone other than Garcia and, according to the court, “did not refer Garcia or the others to the (Arizona Department of Racing.).”

Judge Hauser wrote that “strong circumstantial evidence” suggested the exclusion was not based on hidden ownership or unlicensed training but on Garcia's “riding in the Dec. 20 race, for which he has not been accused of anything.”

The court ruled Garcia “has a protected right to engage in business as a jockey as long as he holds a jockeys license. That right must be balanced against defendant's private property rights.” It found “on the record developed so far” that Turf Paradise's decision to exclude Garcia was “unreasonable under all the circumstances because it was pretextual. If defendant's evidence is true, it was aware for over six months that Garcia may have been involved in training horses yet it took no action to exclude him or to report this illegal activity to the Department.”

“The balance of hardships tips far in plaintiff's favor,” and Garcia's “need to earn a living outweighs (Turf Paradise's) need to preserve its right to control who enters on to its property.”

Finally, the court wrote, “The integrity of the racing industry is a matter of public importance. Given that (Turf Paradise)…was content to permit Garcia to ride in races over a seven-month period despite believing him to be training horses with the assistance of a 'paper' trainer, convinces the court that the industry can endure the issues raised in this case until final judgment.”

In other words, Turf Paradise screwed up by looking the other way at an alleged activity that violated racing rules over a number of months and by not reporting the alleged violations to the state's regulatory agency.

Would it be that much of a stretch to suggest the disqualification of I Xcell from the Dec. 20 Turf Paradise race may have come not because of interference at the sixteenth pole but because track management believed games were being played by Garcia and possibly others? Disqualifying I Xcell would prevent any alleged conspirators from cashing a big ticket on the race. If that was the case, Arizona racing has a serious problem with integrity.

Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report

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