By rule, trainer’s 180-day suspension made him and his star filly ineligible for Canada’s highest annual harness racing honors. Standardbred Canada president and CEO Dan Gall explains why it was the correct decision — even with Atlanta as a favorite for the nation’s Horse of the Year award.
by Dave Briggs
Standardbred Canada president and CEO Dan Gall said stripping Rick Zeron and his star trotting filly Atlanta of the chance to earn O’Brien Awards is simply the correct course of action, nothing more.
Friday, two days after the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) that regulates the sport in the province released a notice saying Zeron is facing a 180-day suspension and $10,000 fine (see sidebar on pg 3 for details on his suspension), Standardbred Canada announced it had disqualified both Zeron as a finalist for the 2018 O’Brien Award of Horsemanship and 3-year-old trotting filly, Atlanta, trained and co-owned by Zeron.
“My quote on the press release was ‘It’s not a good day for anybody. No one should be happy about this’ and I meant that in every way, shape and form,” Gall told HRU on Saturday. “It’s not a happy day for the co-owners, it’s not a happy day for Mr. Zeron, not a happy day for Atlanta and not a happy day for us, because we’re not able to celebrate what we’d like to celebrate, but what’s the right thing to do? The right thing to do is start putting integrity and transparency back onto the table. If we don’t, who is going to?”
Though the winners of O’Brien Awards are not announced until the night of the gala, it is widely believed Atlanta, who defeated the boys in the 2018 Hambletonian, would easily win the award as Canada’s Three-Year-Old Trotting Filly and was on the short list of favorites for the nation’s overall Horse of the Year award.
Guy Gagnon, the other finalist in the Horsemanship category has been acclaimed as the winner, and Illusioneesta, the other finalist in the sophomore trotting filly category, will be honored as the O’Brien winner on Feb. 2 at the O’Brien Awards Gala held in Mississauga, ON.
Standardbred Canada has long had a policy that reads: “An O’Brien Award will not be presented to any individual or entity who has served, or is currently serving a penalty for a continued period of 180 days or more during a calendar year. If the penalty continues through any part of the following calendar year, said individual is also ineligible for an O’Brien Award in the second year of the penalty. Outstanding appeals and/or stays do not alter the conditions of eligibility for O’Brien Award consideration.”
Two messages to Zeron requesting comment were not returned prior to press time, but whether he appeals the AGCO suspension is irrelevant, Gall said. The rule is clear.
What was less clear at press time was whether Zeron’s suspension and fine will strip Atlanta of the Dan Patch Award she has already earned from the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA) as the nation’s top sophomore trotting filly and whether it will impact her eligibility for both the Trotter of the Year and Horse of the Year awards yet to be announced. HRU has asked for clarification from USHWA and will provide an update when information is available.
The trigger for Zeron being declared ineligible in Canada was the 180-day suspension, Gall said. That explains why Caviart Ally is still a finalist for an O’Brien Award in the Older Pacing Mare division. Her trainer, Noel Daley, is facing a similar suspension for alleged shockwave therapy violations as Zeron, but Daley’s 90-day suspension from the New Jersey Racing Commission (see sidebar) is below the O’Brien Awards’ threshold to be declared ineligible.
Gall said he thinks, “the O’Brien Awards committee needs to review that (threshold) and discuss whether that 180 days should be less. I do think it needs to be less. We need to be a lot more restrictive in the way we’re giving out the awards, for those that are getting in and qualifying. That would be my position going into our committee discussions and that’s what I would be lobbying for.”
Asked what number of suspension days might be acceptable, Gall said, “What about zero? I’d love to hear why there should be an exception and I’m sure I would hear that, but my starting point would be why are we looking at horses or trainers that have any kind of a suspension going into these awards?”
Gall said O’Brien Committee chair Bill McLinchey of Woodbine said he would like to set up a meeting as soon as possible to examine the possibility of altering the integrity portion of the eligibility rule.
“This has given us a second sober thought about what we’re doing and why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Gall said. “And having that on the table now, we should start moving forward on having more discussions about it.”
As for the Zeron case, Gall said Standardbred Canada was thorough in its deliberations before it came to a decision.
“When this was brought to our attention by the AGCO ruling, we obviously read it and we wanted to make sure we understood what all of the infractions were and it was a long list of them. Automatically, internally from an administration position, we knew that we had to disqualify Mr. Zeron (from being a finalist for the Horsemanship Award),” Gall said.
“Then we had the discussion about the three-year-old filly Atlanta. We were looking at that aspect as well – how does this or does it impact that horse? The administration believed that there was a serious discussion that we needed to have about the horse because Rick is not only the trainer, but he is also a co-owner. As a co-owner, we viewed that as an ‘entity’ because if you look at our policy it is for any individual or entity currently serving a penalty of 180 days (or more).
“That was our position, but we thought ‘Let’s get some people involved in the discussions and we convened a meeting – a teleconference – with the O’Brien’s committee and the Standardbred Canada executive committee together.’ On the phone, we had a spirited debate on… the one for Mr. Zeron was not up for discussion, because we were within our rights in upholding our policy to disqualify Rick. With the horse, Atlanta, we had a discussion around that There were questions about precedent. There were questions about history. There were questions about how we interpret it. We all came down to the decision that Atlanta should be disqualified as well.”
Gall said the next step was to communicate the decision to Zeron and Atlanta’s other connections. That happened Friday morning, followed by a press release being issued Friday afternoon.
“We wanted to be as hands on the table as we could, with respect to the decision, to explain and talk to the co-owners and then make the announcement,” Gall said.
He said it was well understood the decision would lead to more bad press for a sport that has had more than its share, but in the initial deliberations he said he asked his team at Standardbred Canada to put aside politics and determine the correct course of action.
“I think, as an industry, we need to start asking those kinds of questions, ‘What’s the right thing to do on this one?’ I think there’s a lot of people that would have some very good input and insight on it, but we need to start focusing on the integrity of the game and of the sport and celebrate that piece, as opposed to worrying about what the political fallout might be or whether we win a popularity contest or not,” Gall said. “We just want to do the right thing.”
What rules did Zeron and Daley allegedly violate?
Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario ruling:
ON – VIOLATED RULES 1.09, 6.05, 6.17D, 6.20A,B,C, 6.46.01 B, D AND 6.52
Commission Rule Number : 1.09
Date Issued : 09-JAN-2019
Total Due : $10,000
Suspended From 24-JAN-2019 To 22-JUL-2019 (Full Suspension)
AGCO rules explained:
1.09 — If any case occurs which is not or which is alleged not to be provided for by the rules, it shall be determined by the Judges or the Registrar as the case may be, in such manner as they think is in the best interests of racing. Provided however, the Registrar in his or her absolute discretion may waive the breach of any of the rules, which waiver or breach the Registrar does not consider prejudicial to the best interests of racing.
6.05 — Any attempt to violate any of the rules of the Commission falling short of actual accomplishment shall constitute a violation of the Rules.
6.17D — A person, at any time or place, shall not against any official or participant: (d) engage in any improper conduct. 6.20 A, B, C — A participant shall be considered to have violated the Rules:
(a) for any misconduct which is injurious to racing although not specified in these rules;
(b) for any misconduct prejudicial to the best interests of racing; or
(c) for committing or attempting to commit any other act injurious to racing.
6.46.01 B, D — No person shall possess, administer, traffic, or attempt to possess, administer, or traffic, in a drug, substance or medication, or anything held out to be a drug, substance or medication, for a horse:
(b) which has not been labeled for veterinary use under the Food and Drugs Regulations under the Food and Drugs Act (Canada) or, if labeled for human use under the Food and Drugs Regulations, has not been prescribed by a veterinarian after conducting an examination of the horse and determining that the drug, substance or medication is medically required by the horse and the drug, substance or medication is used only for that horse in accordance with the prescription issued by the veterinarian; and/or
(d) which is not labeled, or accurately labeled, with the contained drug, substance, medication, or active ingredient.
6.52 — The use of Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy or Radial Pulse Wave Therapy shall not be permitted on any racehorse unless the following conditions are met: (a) the treatment took place a minimum of 4 days (96 hours) prior to competing in a race;
(b) the treatment using the Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy or Radial Pulse Wave Therapy machine was conducted by a veterinarian licensed by the Commission as a veterinarian;
(c) any treatment received while on the grounds of the Association was through the use of an Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy or Radial Pulse Wave Therapy machine owned and operated by a veterinarian licensed by the Commission; and
(d) a record of the treatment, including the date and time, is maintained as part of the record of the horse.
New Jersey Racing Commission ruling:
NJ – VIOLATED RULES 13:71-23.17a
Possession of hypodermic needles, syringes and/or injectable and/or other drugs
Commission Rule Number : 18FRE75
Date Issued: 24-NOV-2018
Total Due: $10,000
Suspended From 25-NOV-2018 To 22-FEB-2019 (Full Suspension – 90 days)
As a result of the evidence and testimony presented in the administrative hearing conducted on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, the Board of Judges has determined that Noel Daley on May 13, 2018 did possess a shockwave therapy machine in his stabling area at Magical Acres Farm, which is an off-track stabling facility that is licensed by and under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Racing Commission. The possession of a shockwave therapy machine by any person other than a licensed veterinarian at any racetrack, off-track stabling facility, or other location subject to the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Racing Commission is in direct violation of N.J.A.C. 13:71-23.17a. As a result, Mr. Daley is hereby issued a full suspension of his New Jersey Racing Commission license for a period of thirty (30) days and fined the sum of two thousand five hundred ($2,500.00) dollars. On May 13, 2018 Mr. Daley did possess in his stabling area at Magical Acres Farm numerous bottles of injectable therapeutic medications, as well as hypodermic needles and a syringe. This is in direct violation of N.J.A.C. 13:71-23.9(a). No person aside from licensed veterinarians shall have in his/her possession anywhere within the grounds of an association conducting a race meeting, or anywhere within the confines of a racetrack enclosure, or anywhere within the grounds of any licensed off-track stabling facility, any drugs not possessed in accordance with the laws of the state of New Jersey, nor any contraband drug or unauthorized prescription legend drugs, nor any hypodermic syringes or needles, etc. As a result, Mr. Daley is hereby issued a full suspension of his New Jersey Racing Commission license for a period of ninety (90) days and fined the sum of seven thousand five hundred ($7,500.00) dollars. The suspensions of 30 days and 90 days shall be served concurrently, and Mr. Daley is fined the total sum of ten thousand ($10,000.00) dollars. The period of suspension shall begin on November 25, 2018 and continue through February 22, 2019 inclusive. During the period of suspension, Mr. Daley is denied access to all grounds that are under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Racing Commission for any and all purposes. Violation of N.J.A.C. 13:71-1.19.