View From the Eighth Pole: No Horse Racing Commission, No Transparency In Florida

by | 01.20.2020 | 1:30pm
Trainer Victor Barboza Jr. and jockey Cristian Torres after teaming up for three Gulfstream Park wins on a single card in 2019

It didn't take long for trainer Victor Barboza Jr. to find the winner's circle after being reinstated at Gulfstream Park by the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track's owner, The Stronach Group, which reportedly handed the Venezuela native a six-month suspension in November for having unlabeled medication in his barn.

Granpollo Stable's Gran Greyfrost won a low-level claiming race on Sunday for Barboza and jockey Cristian Torres in the trainer's third start since being allowed by company officials to return to the track. He had two seconds on Saturday and added a third-place finish Sunday after Gran Greyfrost's win.

I know what you're saying, as you count months on your fingers: “November, December, January … Hey, that's not even three months.”

It's hard to uncover more specifics about the supposed six-month suspension. There was no written penalty posted on the rulings section of the Association of Racing Commissioners International website and nothing at MyFloridaLicense.com, the website published by Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation for the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. MyFloridaLicense.com does show Barboza being sanctioned in 2019 for two drug infractions – one Class 3 and one Class 4 – and the website notes three horse deaths in his stable in February and March. (A third medication infraction in 2019  for a Class 4 drug was dismissed.)

The only reference to the six-month suspension of Barboza – leading trainer at the summer meet at Gulfstream Park – came in a short note in Daily Racing Form on Nov. 4, 2019: “Trainer Victor Barboza Jr. has been suspended by The Stronach Group for six months for having unlabeled medication in his barn. Officials in the Gulfstream racing office said he was eligible to appeal on a monthly basis.”

During the time Barboza's name was not listed in the program as trainer, horses from his stable ran under the name of Nagib Aboughaida, whose first official career start came with the erstwhile Barboza runner Mysterio on Oct. 30. Sources said Aboughaida maintained the stable using Barboza's tack, stall webbings and employees. The barn kept humming along under Aboughaida, winning 10 of 53 starts, with 10 seconds and 15 third-place finishes while Barboza was cooling his heels on the sidelines.

The Stronach Group declined to comment about Barboza when asked by the Paulick Report in December.

Officials with the company also declined to comment about trainer Aubrey Maragh, who hasn't started a horse since Nov. 24 at Gulfstream Park West.

Maragh, some may remember, was “trespassed administratively” Aug. 22, 2018, while Gulfstream Park officials conducted an internal investigation of an Aug. 19 race in which the Maragh runner Musical Heart finished second, beaten a head, under jockey Tony Maragh, nephew of the trainer. We'll let the Equibase footnotes do the play-by-play: “Musical Heart reserved racing wide and unasked while trailing field in early stages, began to move up closer racing wide still unasked in the turn, entered top stretch eight wide and continued to gain without being persevered with.”

Tony Maragh was suspended 60 days for not persevering with his mount. He claimed he spent too much time in the sauna trying to make weight that day and felt weak.

Aubrey Maragh, who had another horse in the race that finished off the board, didn't saddle another runner until Oct. 7, 2018, though we could find no published ruling that said he had been suspended. There was no published report on the results of the track's internal investigation and there is no ruling at MyFloridaLicense.com on the matter.

The most recent absence by Aubrey Maragh began just over a month after the Paulick Report contacted Gulfstream Park officials about multiple inquiries it received from horseplayers concerning an Oct. 19, 2019, maiden claiming race in which two Maragh-trained runners, Snake Eyed Girl and Anomaly, finished last and second to last as the 9-10 favorite and 5-2 second choice, respectively. Neither horse has started or recorded an official workout since that race.

Emails to the Paulick Report suggested the $132.46 superfecta payout (on a 10 cent wager) in that Oct. 19 race was light. The winner was 19-1, the runner-up 6-1, third place was 16-1 and fourth place was 67-1.

Florida does not have a traditional racing commission – only a bureaucracy at the state capitol in Tallahassee – and the sport is regulated by a hybrid of state and house rules. The state conducts post-race testing and employs one of the three stewards who oversee races for the purposes of adjudicating inquiries and objections. The state issues penalties for medication violations to trainers without conducting hearings to consider mitigating or aggravating circumstances or without publishing details of the violations. Gulfstream employs two association stewards who, among other things, issue penalties to jockeys for riding infractions – though rulings are not published on the track's website or at ARCI. The track also conducts random TCO2 testing and is responsible for hiring backstretch security personnel.

Gulfstream Park can exercise private property rights and trespass or ban anyone, as its management sees fit. The track is under no obligation to notify the wagering public who is banned or suspended, for what reason, for how long, or whether or not a suspension (made public or not) has been reduced in time – as apparently was the case with Victor Barboza Jr. It is not the most transparent way of doing business and does not instill a great deal of confidence in the wagering public.

That's my view from the eighth pole.

CORRECTION: Victor Barboza Jr. was sanctioned twice in Florida for medication violations in 2019, not three as originally reported. A third case against the trainer was dismissed.

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