The disqualification of Secret Gesture from first to third place in the Grade 1 Beverly D Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 15 was upheld Friday in a Director's Review Conference Report issued by former Illinois Racing Board executive director Marc Laino.
Current IRB executive director Domenic DiCera named Laino the designee for this matter.
Several expert witnesses testified during the two-day Director's Review Conference in addition to the stewards and the three jockeys involved in the matter (Jamie Spencer, aboard the disqualified winner, Secret Gesture; Irad Ortiz Jr., aboard original third-place finisher Stephanie's Kitten, who checked sharply in deep stretch after Secret Gesture drifted out several paths; and Joe Bravo, aboard the runner-up Watsdachances, who was not involved in the incident but was elevated to first place by a 2-1 vote of the stewards to disqualify Secret Gesture).
The IRB called retired Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero Jr., while Joel Turner, attorney for Watsdachances connections (Bradley Thoroughbreds, Michael Kisber and Nelson McMakin) called California Horse Racing Board steward and former rider Darrel McHargue. Karen Murphy, attorney for the connections of Secret Gesture (David Redvers, Qatar Racing and Garreett Coffey, Newells Park Stud, and Jamie Spencer), called retired Hall of Fame rider Steve Cauthen and longtime racing official Bernard Hetel.
Michael Meuser, who represented Stephanie's Kitten's owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, did not call any witnesses.
The IRB's chief steward, former rider Eddie Arroyo, voted against the disqualification but joined the other two stewards, Steven Morgan and Ronald Herbstreit, in voting to assess Spencer a $1,500 fine for allowing Secret Gesture to drift out.
Arroyo, along with Cauthen, Hettel and Spencer, said Ortiz exaggerated the interference by “pulling up and checking unnecessarily” on Stephanie's Kitten when Secret Gesture crossed in front of him. Laino said testimony from witnesses for the IRB – particularly Ortiz – and Watsdachances' connections was more persuasive.
“I found all of the witnesses to be for the most part credible,” Laino wrote in his report. “However, Spencer's testimony that he did not cross over/come into the path of Ortiz, but if he did, Secret Gesture was ‘clear' was not supported by either the multiple angle film of the race or the testimony … Spencer's actions constituted careless riding.”
Further, Laino wrote, “Petitioners' theory that Ortiz's exaggeration or grandstanding cost Ortiz second place is not supported by the evidence or testimony. It is clear that Ortiz's action to check his horse and pull up was solely to avoid a collision and injury or become unseated. In fact, immediately after Ortiz checked his horse, he returns to a racing position and runs his horse to the finish line, which was corroborated by McHargue's testimony.”
Laino also wrote that “McHargue pointed out in great detail in the multiple angle race video where it appeared that the hind legs or hooves of Secret Gesture overlapped/intersected with the front legs or hooves of Stephanie's Kitten for 2-3 strides as it crossed in front of Stephanie's Kitten.
“Therefore,” Laino wrote, “based on my consideration of the evidence, I find that Steward Ruling 151031 and the associated penalty of the $1,500 fine and the disqualification of Secret Gesture from first to third place in the ninth race at Arlington on Aug. 15, 2015, be upheld.”
The connections of Secret Gesture have 35 days to challenge the decision by filing an action for administrative review.
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