Pennsylvania Regulators Keep Racing Public In The Dark

by | 10.07.2015 | 1:33am

If you thought things couldn't get worse in Pennsylvania horse racing after the jockey whip caper in the fouth race at Parx Racing on Sept. 21, think again.

Surely you know about the whip caper. It happened when Angel Castillo dropped his whip at the top of the stretch and grabbed fellow jockey Pierre Hernandez Ortega's riding crop and used it 16 times to urge his mount on to a second-place finish. The incident was described in detail in the Equibase chart footnotes, and Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission stewards apparently saw what happened. For whatever reason and without a full explanation to the racing public, they allowed the official order of finish to stand.

Five days later, Castillo was in the spotlight again. And once again, a sharp-eyed chart caller for Equibase gets credit for calling 'em as he sees 'em.

Castillo was riding 17-1 longshot Wils Reward in the $5,000 claiming race. In deep stretch, according to the Equibase chart, Wils Reward “appeared poised to run by rivals when his rider stopped urging and began to ease up his mount most likely costing him the victory.”

Last Sunday, there was another incident. This one didn't involve how a race ended, but how the life of one of the horses did. Once again, the Equibase chart footnotes told the story.

Armani the Won was a 19-1 longshot ridden by 10-pound apprentice Silvestre Gonzalez, who rode in his first pari-mutuel race on Aug. 2 at Gulfstream Park. The young man has had 45 mounts since then and is still looking for his first winner.

Gonzalez had Armani the Won forwardly placed early on in the six-furlong dirt race when, approaching the far turn, the 4-year-old gelding could be seen taking a bad step and quickly fading from third position, to sixth, then ninth and last.

The Equibase chart reads: “Armani the Won broke down in his right front near the three-eighths pole but was continuously ridden to the stretch where he was pulled up near the finish and subsequently euthanized.”

This was a terrible mistake by a young jockey who said in a message subsequently posted on social media that he had never been on a horse that broke down, didn't know Armani the Won was injured until he finally pulled the horse up, and was in shock when he realized what had happened. He expressed sorrow for the incident.

Frankly, I don't know what else he could say. As Gonzalez admitted, “I'm still learning.”

I hope he does learn from this incident. I also hope stewards at Parx Racing take the matter seriously enough to have met with the jockey and issue a ruling of some type: a warning, a fine, a suspension…anything.

Stewards rulings at Parx are not easy to obtain, and stewards will not talk to the press. At least that was the message steward John Hicks gave Jim Dunleavy of Daily Racing Form, when Dunleavy inquired about the Sept. 21 whip incident involving Castillo and Hernandez Ortega. Dunleavy reported that Hicks said it “was Pennsylvania Racing Commission policy for the stewards not to discuss racing matters with the press.”

Are you kidding me? Whose game do they think this is?

Have Pennsylvania Racing Commissioners Alan Novak, Corinne Sweeney and Thomas Jay Ellis heard of the term transparency? Have they looked around the country to racing commissions that take their responsibility to the betting public more seriously, routinely posting stewards rulings or weekly stewards minutes on regulatory agency websites? Do they know that, with each federal indictment at Penn National, each “miracle” form reversal of claiming horses, each unsettling incident at Parx, the racing public is losing confidence in the integrity of the sport and gambling business they are charged to regulate?

I don't know what Angel Castillo's explanation is for easing up on his mount at Parx Sept. 26 when the official Equibase chartcaller said he would likely have won. I don't know if Castillo has been fined or suspended for the incident or if the stewards are even aware of it.

I don't know what the stewards' explanation is for not disqualifying the horse Castillo rode to a second-place finish while using a whip he took from another rider in the middle of the race.

I don't know what, if any, punishment apprentice Silvestre Gonzalez will receive for his actions aboard Armani the Won.

The public deserves answers. It deserves more transparent oversight and respect from a regulatory agency that prefers to keep everyone in the dark.

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