I don't like it when people try to make a fool out of me. I do a good enough job of that without any help.
But that's what the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission staff apparently was trying to do last week when I inquired about the status of the investigation into the wrong horse running and winning at Remington Park on Sept. 16.
I've learned in previous attempts to get information from the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission that its executive director, Kelly Cathey, would be non-responsive. Nevertheless, I left a voice message with him the day after a 6-year-old mare named Onemorefastdance ran and won under the name of a 4-year-old gelding, Collateral Kitten. Both horses are from the barn of Karl Broberg, who admitted to what he called an “egregious” and “embarrassing” mistake after it was brought to my attention by Onemorefastdance's breeder, John M. Lowder.
The person acting as horse identifier on Sept. 16 was steward David Moore, who was subbing for Walter Orona, whose regular job is to compare lip tattoos of every horse with its foal papers before they enter the paddock to be saddled.
Cathey did not call back. A Daily Racing Form reporter who reached Cathey on his cell phone to ask about the mix-up got a “no comment.”
More than two weeks later, on Oct. 4, after learning from multiple sources that both Moore and Orona were missing from their jobs for a week, I emailed the commission staff member who I previously was told to funnel my inquiries through, since the executive director did not want to be bothered.
“I wanted to check to see if there are rulings related to a recent case or cases involving horse identification,” I wrote in an email. “The rulings would involve Karl Broberg, David Moore and/or Walter Orona. Can you please send me copies of any stewards rulings on this?”
Later that day I got a response from Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission staff attorney James Rucker.
“Mr. Paulick: I was forwarded your request for information regarding the recent horse identification case(s) at Remington. As of now there have been no Stewards Rulings issued as regards any of the individuals you named. — James W. Rucker, Staff Attorney, Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission”
Something didn't smell right, and I wrote this piece two days later, saying that “ horsemen and horseplayers at Remington Park have grumbled to the Paulick Report about a lack of transparency from the commission and concerns over whether horse identification procedures are being corrected to prevent further mistakes.”
Three days after that, on Oct. 9, Kelly Cathey called to say he had a statement on the matter. It reads:
“The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission staff has completed the investigative portion of the matter regarding recently misidentified horses. These events brought forth a review of long standing procedures and protocols which have since been revised to better ensure shortfalls such as these do not occur in the future. Both the identifier and the steward acting as identifier were suspended for seven working days without pay, beginning immediately after the September 16th incident.
“While we cannot comment on the actions of the trainer and his staff prior to the scheduled Stewards hearing, the OHRC takes responsibility for its role in these matters. Myself and staff members understand we are charged with protecting the public, as well as industry participants from intentional or inadvertent violations of our Rules.
“On behalf of the OHRC, I extend our sincerest apologies to all who may have been negatively affected by these events and assure them that our duty to provide the highest standard of regulation over racing at all race tracks will be met.”
What Cathey didn't say in his statement was why Orona was suspended if he wasn't working Sept. 16. He also didn't say who suspended the two men or why the staff attorney wasn't more forthcoming on Oct. 4 when I directly asked if there had been any “rulings” on Moore, Orona or Broberg.
Cathey replied that the investigation into the Sept. 16 incident uncovered a Sept. 4 misidentification involving the same two horses (as reported in Paulick Report). The regular horse identifier, Walter Orona, was working that night, Cathey said. He also said “it was apparent that I needed to take immediate action as these are OHRC employees so I sought advice from our HR attorney, not Mr. Rucker, concerning disciplinary options for our personnel.”
So apparently a high-profile misidentification case that led to the executive director suspending a steward and the horse identifier for one week without pay escaped the notice of the staff attorney for the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission. Or maybe he was playing word games with me, since there was no “ruling” or “stewards ruling” but disciplinary action from the commission's executive director. I think he played me for a fool.
Either way, the betting public has a right to know what actions a regulatory agency or stewards take to ensure that competence, accountability and transparency are in place where people are betting their hard-earned dollars.
That's my view from the eighth pole.
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