HRU Feedback (2021-03-14)

John Campbell responds to Russell Williams

I feel compelled to respond to USTA president Russell Williams’ comments regarding the recently passed Federal Legislation, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020 (HISA) (full story here).

Mr. Williams specifically singled out me as an individual, and the Hambletonian Society as an organization, in direct response to a letter that was not written, signed or distributed by me or the Hambletonian Society, but rather by a long list of USTA members and harness racing stakeholders.

The Society released a statement in support of the Federal Legislation (a law that applied only to thoroughbreds, removing standardbreds and quarter horses entirely) last September and we stand by that statement.

I do represent the Hambletonian Society on the Board of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC), an organization formed 20 years ago with the support of Harness Tracks of America, the USTA, the Hambletonian Society and several other breed organizations to pursue uniform medication rules and promote the integrity of racing and the health and welfare of the racehorse.

It is factual that over time this Board has been dominated by thoroughbred interests.

The RMTC researches and collects data on medications, both therapeutic and performance enhancing, supported by independent studies as well as their own Scientific Advisory Committee. The RMTC then make recommendations to the Association of Racing Commissions International (ARCI) also a thoroughbred-dominated organization.

ARCI reviews this data and these recommendations, as they do all submissions from all parties, then determines and is the sole arbiter of what is adopted into ARCI Model Rules.

It is then up to each individual State Racing Commission whether to adopt a Model Rule in whole or in part into their state’s racing rules and regulations.

Personally, I don’t understand the constant barrage of criticism against the RMTC when it is the Association of Racing Commissioners who accept or reject changes or additions to Model Rules.

We also take exception to a president of the USTA referring to the Hambletonian Society as merely a record-keeping organization. This mission statement, “The United States Trotting Association (USTA) was established as a non-profit organization for the purpose of keeping records related to the sport of harness racing, the participants, and the standardbred breed of horse” has certainly changed and adapted over the years, as has the Society’s.

Our mission statement is to “Support and encourage the breeding of standardbred horses by sponsoring stakes and futurities specifically the Hambletonian Stake to make nominations for the Hambletonian Stake and to lend support to related activities.”

The Society owns several stake events, including the Hambletonian races and Breeders Crown championship series and we take a very active role with our host track and horseman organization’s partners in the planning, marketing, sponsorship, promotion and implementation of these events.

We administer and manage 147 stake races for a number of other racetracks and organizations throughout the industry. This is hardly “merely record keeping.”

In the last 50 years, the Hambletonian Society has supported almost every initiative that proposes to move the sport of harness racing forward, including the recently formed USTA Harness Racing Medication Collaborative, with both a pledge of financial support and organizational recognition.

I also do not understand the rational that because some of our 27 directors have thoroughbred as well as standardbred interests that they do not or have not made decisions in the best interest of harness racing. In my many years on the Society Board and my time as president I have never suspected or witnessed a director expressing ulterior motives or attempting to direct the narrative to a thoroughbred slant.

The USTA claims to represent all participants in harness racing. I submit they should at very least take notice of the number of USTA members who have signed the referenced letter.

— John Campbell / president and CEO Hambletonian Society

Thoughts on the USTA’s position on HISA

Just writing to make a few short points about the unprecedented open letter published in HRU Friday from over 160 (and counting) members of the harness racing community in support of the new federal legislation (full story here).

First, like it or not, HISA is law. If we do not have a seat at the table major damage will adversely impact our industry. Something I think we, meaning everyone in the industry, including the USTA, all agree we cannot afford.

Second, the idea is not just to negotiate with the thoroughbred industry but to negotiate with the members of the newly-formed racing authority which will have the power under the new law. The authority will consist of regulators and others. It is not an us-versus-thoroughbreds equation as it may have been in the past.

Third, I hope the USTA realizes that the number of people who signed the open letter is the clearest possible evidence that it does not “represent the interest of all participants in harness racing.” The Board of Directors should reflect the views of its membership, and of the hundreds of industry leaders who want a new direction, and take action this week during the USTA’s annual meeting to change course. It is not yet too late. Can’t we find common ground?

Fourth, it’s my understanding that several members of our community privately supported the letter but feared retaliation from Russell Williams and/or the USTA if they were to publicly support it. Such threatened retaliation, or even the perception of it, should be unacceptable to every member and director of the USTA. No one in our sport should be afraid to speak their conscience about such an important topic.

Fifth, Williams’ attack on John Campbell and the Hambletonian Society is out of line for so many obvious reasons. Campbell did not sign the letter. Nor did the Society. John’s stature in the industry is above reproach.

— Harvey Nagler / Wayne, NJ

Wake up, USTA

RE: Industry names sign letter supporting HISA

Seriously, when you have this many breeders, trainers and drivers writing an open letter telling you to quit your opposition to HISA, when are you going to wake up and do what they are asking? When? Stop it, USTA! Listen to your members! Thank you.

— Shari Hazlett / Ellicott City, MD

Disheartening to hear USTA opposes HISA

The merits of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) recently passed by Congress and signed into law is no longer open to debate. It is the Law of the Land. It is also an opportunity that has the potential of helping horseracing survive and prosper or, in the alternative, giving participants in the industry a public-relations nightmare. It all depends on how we as an industry deal with this new situation.

The thoroughbred industry has correctly chosen to embrace the law and work with a positive attitude to improve the admittedly imperfect legislation. The standardbred industry would be wise to do the same.

It was disheartening to read in HRU “The USTA confirms its opposition to HISA” by (USTA president) Russell Williams (full story here).

Everything Mr. Williams pointed out in his statement regarding the skullduggery in the legislative process may be accurate. But, unfortunately, it does not matter. The law, as imperfect as it is, is on the books and this desire to refight lost battles by our leadership has our industry on the wrong side of public perception, potential federal oversight and the sentiment of at least a 164 Standardbred breeders, owners and trainers (see Long list of key industry names sign letter supporting HISA) who are concerned about this perplexing refusal of our leaders to face reality. As much as we all appreciate the dedication of the USTA leadership, and particularly, Russell Williams, with all due respect on this one critical issue, they are leading us in the wrong direction in both tone and strategy.

Perception in the 21st Century often becomes reality. The reality is that our Industry should endorse the intent and purpose of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act while working to have influence on its operating regulations and to insure the public’s perception of our Industry aligns with reality.

— Richard Alan Arnold / Willow Oak Ranch / Rogersville, TN

More thoughts on Mr. Williams’ position

I continue to be astounded by Mr. Williams’ position and how tone deaf he is to industry needs. What harm can come from negotiating with the thoroughbred industry to be inclusive of harness racing’s needs? Wouldn’t this make more sense than trying to get another bill through Congress from an expediency standpoint? It appears nothing will wake Mr. Williams up. Time to resign.

— Stewart Goldberg / Minisink Farms

The egregious failure of our racing commissions

Changing the ownership and/or management of a horse to circumvent any penalty is prohibited!

Should I state this regulation again or do you think once is enough?

I have broached this topic before and it’s even money a return visit will be necessary.

The egregious failure of our racing commissions to enforce the numerous regulations addressing this key integrity issue is taking racing down a path of no return. Rules exist in every jurisdiction in all facets of racing forbidding fraudulent misrepresentation and conspiracy. In 2006, an attempt was initiated to influence racetrack owners to utilize their court approved “Right of Exclusion” to supplant what our regulators refuse to address. Most racetrack owners are aware of the problem but feel it is the responsibility of state commissioners to resolve. One racetrack owner, Jeff Gural, has taken a much-needed leadership position in protecting his business interest where the state agencies have failed.

It is a well-known reality that many of our regulators are inexperienced, ineffective, reactionary political appointees that for the most part require tragedy and/or scandal as motivation. We must resolve our conflicting agendas regarding integrity and initiate a unified effort to adopt protection measures our regulators have declined to provide.

The developing “Horseracing Integrity Act” will certainly help us get back on track. Albeit, the present scandal has placed the fraudulent trainer issue on the forge.

In June 2019, there was an incident at Pocono Downs where Ray Schnittker was verbally assaulted in the winner`s circle by a beard trainer that had a horse in the race. No penalties were issued. Many hoped this incident would serve as a watershed moment motivating our regulators to enforce the rules at hand. As expected, precedents prevailed; no penalties were issued. Hence there is little hope of any jurisdictional resolution.

This inherent regulatory dysfunction is the key reason major integrity issues such as beard trainers has never been resolved. Racetrack owners are forced to implement house rules as racings watchdogs consistently allow repeat offenders serving lengthy suspensions for serious integrity violations to falsely list a beard trainer or employee on their entries. The penalized trainer never misses a day, it`s business as usual.

Legitimate trainers burn when horses are shipped in on trailers with the suspended trainers name painted on the side and his employees caring for them. When these horses win or a trainer with multiple beard trainers has two or three in the same race the trainers and owners are one step closer to leaving the business. Unfortunately, many have. Horse owners seeking out these suspended trainers exacerbate the problem. They themselves are compromising the integrity of racing when utilizing these miscreant individuals. It would be a major step forward if these owners many of whom are known moved their stock to legitimate barns.

With “racing commission support” there are ways for Presiding Judges to monitor the trainers. The most direct being requesting stable accounts and invoices, follow the money. Additionally, work with the race secretary, who is calling in the entries, call the owner listed on the purse check, question the trainer calling in the driver assignments as well as the drivers and talk to the individuals shipping the horses. All effective deterrents not possible without commission support.
These fraudulent trainers and their minions have no reason to fear the racing commissions. An integrity policy based on this premise was instituted at Tioga and Vernon. The policy requirement was included in the racing and stall applications. There were several trainers denied when after due diligence it was determined that they were not responsible for the care and welfare of the horses on their application. A very important factor in implementing this policy is to absolutely ensure consistent, equitable and fair treatment of all horsemen. A group of experienced, trusted industry executives could provide background information on an individual basis upon request for the racetrack owners consideration.

I stated in Blood Horse and Harness Racing Update articles in 2006 and 2016 that if all racetrack owners decided to utilize their rights of application review and exclusion our public perception and level of integrity would move into positive territory.

The horseshoe is red hot on this issue and ready to be shaped. This effort will require deliberation, an unprecedented, unified effort, tough decisions, and the fortitude to follow through if we are to reverse our course.

It was recently noted that these trainers have a right to make a living. The racetrack owners also have rights… the “right of exclusion” to protect their business interest and enhance the facilities public perception.

I can keep putting these thoughts out for your consideration albeit my time is wasted if we do not step up and let our concerns be known. Social media is at your fingertips… let’s go!

— Art Gray / West Seneca, NY

Be fair to honest people

RE: (2021-03-07 edition page 11)

I was accused of having my horse trained by someone who probably never even saw my horse unless jogging by him on a training track. My name is Todd Liebman and I live in South Florida. I bought my first racehorse when I was 16 years old. I am now 62. I was the youngest member in SOA of NY history. I have owned about 50 horses in my life. Six years ago, I moved to Florida. Since my move I have raced horses in Ohio and New York.

Two months ago I decided I wanted to claim a horse that was racing at Pompano Park. All I wanted to do when I claimed this horse was to have some fun. I live five minutes from a farm called Celebrity Farms. They actually changed their name this year to something I don’t even know. My idea was to have a horse near my home that I can go visit whenever I want. I was brought up at Roosevelt Raceway and would be in the backstretch all the time until it closed down. This was my enjoyment. One of my best friends was a trainer at Roosevelt and lives down the block from me here in Florida. Another friend of mine was a trainer stabled at the farm.

I found a horse that I wanted to claim. The horse’s name was La Rockin Sampson. I told the trainer at the farm (Ken Holliday) that I wanted to claim this horse and I wanted him to train. He asked if he can buy in for 25 per cent. I said no problem. My other friend Allan Alkes wanted in for a piece of the horse with the caveat that he would be involved with the caring and assistance of the horse. Again, no problem. I still maintained majority ownership. Allan spent 5 hours a day on his own doing all the little things for this horse (like turning him out early in the morning when very few people were even at the farm). Ken (who is a very smart and distinguished horseman from Ohio) had final say on anything related to training, which included shoeing and equipment. We knew a few days after the claim a few changes we needed to make for his feet and blood. We knew it would take a few weeks to make a difference but in horses you never know for sure. But his blood was bad and his feet were hurting.

Anyway, the last horse I owned was claimed from me at Yonkers Raceway by Mr. Rene Allard. The notion that I would give a horse to someone I didn’t know, who had claimed the last horse I had owned from me a little over a year earlier is more dumfounded than anything. After winning a few races impressively, the horse was accused of being trained by someone else because he simply won. All the extra work that Ken and Allan put in was not the reason. We were told the initial call with this accusation originated from the Meadowlands.

If this is true, it is a shame — 1,200 miles away in East Rutherford, New Jersey someone is calling Pompano Park to tell the authorities there that my horse is being trained by Rene Allard. This is a major problem in our sport! When people who are in authority of our great sport 1,200 miles away (if true) can make false accusations and be taken seriously. People who think they know but really don’t. People who accuse before questioning. People who add 2 plus 2 and come up with 6. People who jump to conclusions instead of walking to them.

Again, nobody tried to get in touch with me or my partners or trainer to ask questions and get answers. They just wanted to make up contrived accusations. Some sore losers (if true) 1,200 miles away (obviously with some clout) did not want to hear the truth only what they wanted to believe. And so, because of these sore losers, my horse and all the horses in my trainer’s barn were forced to move to Pompano racetrack or they would not be allowed to race. I just sold my horse so I would not have to deal with people in authority that make dictator type of decisions without any investigation and no repercussions.

My only silver lining, there are repercussions, handle and a substantial amount more than they can ever imagine. I only wish more people who have been threatened, accused or simply not listened to by these racetracks stopped placing bets and racing there. A place like the Meadowlands would be hurt. They would be left with only sports betting.

Alan sold because he no longer would be able to care for the horse because the extra commute time would not leave him enough time for his other work. Still, till this day, no one has asked me or my trainer any questions. No one wanted the truth. Just using our success to go after someone else but yet include us in their compulsion. Me and my friends would never want to race at these tracks again. And if by any luck I ever own a great horse it will be my pleasure to race him where management is for the little guys and not for themselves. Where racing is for the fans, the average players, the whales and not for control freaks with vendettas.

Now Allan has lost the enjoyment he was getting taking care of La. Ken has to endure totally false accusations and had to move an entire stable from five minutes away from his home to 40 minutes away, a home he just recently bought because it was close to the farm and he could go home before his nightly commute to the track. And the horse no longer gets to enjoy early morning paddocks.

The last witch hunt like this happened in 1692,in a place called Salem village. And why is management at the Meadowlands having any say in what’s going on in South Florida? Do the Yankees tell the Marlins what to do? And should the Meadowlands be given a pulpit on the USTA website to threaten USTA members? My understanding is the Meadowlands has no authority to keep a horse out of stakes races that have been paid for, only overnights and late closers. And finally, to all racetracks, please don’t let people 1,200 miles away tell you what’s going on in your backyard. Just look out your window

– Todd Liebman / Wellington, FL

Allard’s lawyer responds to Jeff Gural

RE: (2021-03-07 edition page 11)

Dear Mr. Gural:

This firm is civil counsel to Rene Allard. Last week, you further escalated your long-running campaign to blacklist Mr. Allard from his chosen profession. Mr. Allard has every right to make a living. He has every right to continue training horses, which is his passion and his life’s work. All of his current professional activities are specifically permitted by court order. We demand that you cease and desist from your tortious interference with — and your efforts to organize a group boycott of — Mr. Allard’s business. Your actions are not just unlawful, but wrong.

You began your campaign against Mr. Allard in 2013 by excluding him from your racetracks. You then employed a private investigative firm that harassed and threatened others in the harness racing industry unless they provided negative information about Mr. Allard. You then caused unreliable information generated by those investigators to be turned over to the United States Government, leading to Mr. Allard’s arrest. As a result of your actions, Mr. Allard is the subject of a pending criminal prosecution in which he fully intends to clear his name.

In the latest escalation, you have now demanded that all horse owners who do business with Mr. Allard stop doing so as a condition of doing business with you. On March 6, 2021, the Meadowlands media relations department issued a statement (the “March 6 Statement”) [1] that the three racetracks you control—The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs, which account for a significant portion of harness racing opportunities in the Northeast and include harness racing’s flagship track — will “exclude any horse being trained or that has been trained” by Mr. Allard in Florida. The March 6 Statement also notes that for owners who “currently have or have had horses in Mr. Allard’s stable this winter,” “all horses owned wholly or in part by them will be excluded” from these three tracks and “deemed ineligible… for any/all administered stake races… for a minimum of three years.” Owners who have done business with Mr. Allard must also divest their interest from any horses not trained by Mr. Allard in which they are minority owners by March 15 in order for those horses to race at your tracks. [2] The ban would likely affect dozens of owners and hundreds of horses that have never been trainedby Mr. Allard.

Thus, in addition to banning horses trained by Mr. Allard, the March 6 Statement effectively provides that any owners who have any business relationship with Mr. Allard must agree to cease doing business with him as a condition of doing unrelated business with your tracks. The pressure on owners is severe. Owners who agree to the policy announced in your March 6 Statement would need to immediately sell their ownership interest in horses that are not trained by Mr. Allard, which would likely mean selling those horses at a loss. Owners who do not agree to the policy would presumably lose the stakes money they have already paid to race at the Meadowlands this year and any purses they may have won from racing there.

It is difficult to envision a clearer example of tortious interference with business relations. You are engaged in “deliberate interference” with Mr. Allard’s existing contractual relationships with owners in an effort to induce owners to breach their contracts with Mr. Allard. NBT Bancorp Inc. v. Fleet/Norstar Fin. Grp., Inc., 87 N.Y.2d 614, 621 (1996). You are also making statements that “impugn[] the basic integrity” of Mr. Allard’s business.Amaranth LLC v. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., 71 A.D.3d 40, 48 (1st Dep’t 2009) (“[Plaintiff] has adequately pleaded the elements of tortious interference with prospective economic advantage. It is well settled that where a statement impugns the basic integrity… of a business, an action lies and injury is conclusively presumed.”). And you are exerting severe economic pressure on owners by threatening to freeze them out of the most important opportunities in their field if they have any economic relations with Mr. Allard in the future. See, e.g., Carvel Corp. v. Noonan, 3 N.Y.3d 182, 193-94 (2004) (severe economic pressure on third parties who do business with plaintiff may constitute tortious interference with plaintiff’s prospective economic relations).

You are also, in potential violation of the Sherman Act, attempting to orchestrate a group boycott of Mr. Allard in plain sight. A group boycott is an agreement among participants in the relevant market not to deal, or only to deal on discriminatory terms, with a competitor.See, e.g.,NYNEX Corp. v. Discon, Inc., 525 U.S. 128, 134 (1998). Such boycotts are per seunlawful—meaning that they are illegal irrespective of whether they actually have an anticompetitive effect or a legitimate business rationale—where they involve horizontal agreements among competitors.See, e.g.,Fashion Originators’ Guild of Am., Inc. v. FTC, 312 U.S. 457 (1941). You are both an owner of racetracks and an owner of horses. Should you succeed in your efforts to induce other horse owners to agree not to do business with Mr. Allard as a condition of doing business with you, you would be entering into such horizontal agreements.

The improper purpose of the March 6 Statement is further confirmed by your history of targeting Mr. Allard — and others in your industry who defy your edicts.

In 2013, after Mr. Allard won several significant races at your tracks and was having an excellent season (including a training UDRS of .367), you excluded him from racing at any of your tracks without explanation. [3] As you have acknowledged, banning trainers — especially winning ones — from the Meadowlands can help your bottom line. [4] That is so in part because you and your close associates sometimes have stakes in horses competing in those same races.

A trainer has previously testified under oath that you banned him from your racetrack because he was winning races. [5] After another trainer spoke out publicly against that ban, you banned him too. [6] When a trainer worked to defeat legislation that would have expressly authorized the practice of allowing horses you own to race on your tracks, you banned him—and then banned other horsemen who were merely members of the association that opposed the proposed bill. [7]

Even after you banned Mr. Allard from your racetracks, Mr. Allard continued his long track record of success. You, in turn, continued taking measures that would harm his career. You engaged a private investigative firm, 5 Stones Intelligence, to investigate Mr. Allard. 5 Stones used aggressive, unlawful tactics in an attempt to coerce witnesses into incriminating others in the industry. When witnesses refused to participate and told 5 Stones that they were not aware of any wrongdoing, 5 Stones threatened their careers in the industry.

You then gave the Government the information that 5 Stones collected through these questionable means. As you noted in the March 6 Statement: “We, along with the Thoroughbred Jockey Club, spent much time and money employing the Five Stones investigators to prepare a case to get the Feds interested which led to all of those indictments,” referring to the indictment against Mr. Allard and others. Your own words suggest that your purpose in retaining 5 Stones was not to uncover the truth. It was to produce information, whether true or false, that would “get the Feds interested” and lead the Government to indict Mr. Allard. In other words, you worked with 5 Stones to “lead the FBI in the right direction.” [8] That the Government charged Mr. Allard on the basis of information provided at least in part by yourself and 5 Stones—after your years-long campaign against Mr. Allard, and after 5 Stones’ repeated harassment of witnesses—raises serious doubt about the criminal charges that Mr. Allard now faces.

Despite Mr. Allard’s arrest, owners have continued to employ him to train their young, non-racing horses because they are confident in his integrity and future success. As you are surely aware, Mr. Allard has been permitted by prosecutors and the Court to continue making a living by engaging in this work while the criminal case is pending. [9] You, however, have continued your efforts to put Mr. Allard out of business entirely. Even before the March 6 Statement, you contacted owners directly to pressure them to end their business with Mr. Allard. Those private communications were consistent with your thinly veiled public comments that “anyone who used these people who were indicted cannot be sleeping well” [10] and that “some might find it in their interest to cooperate.” [11]

* * *

We hereby demand that you formally retract the March 6 Statement. We further demand that you state in writing that will not seek to require owners to stop doing business with Mr. Allard as a condition of entering horses into races at tracks you control.

You, your corporate entities, your affiliates, your employees and agents, and others acting at your direction, including but not limited to 5 Stones Intelligence, must also preserve all documents and correspondence concerning the investigation of Mr. Allard; your direct and indirect communications with others in the industry about Mr. Allard’s business and/or conduct; and/or the March 6 Statement.

This letter is not an exhaustive recitation of Mr. Allard’s legal claims, rights, or remedies, all of which we expressly reserve.

[1] Gural Statement on Allard Training Stable, United States Trotting Ass’n.

[2] The March 15 deadline is a key entry point when horse owners must pay fees in order to race in the upcoming season. Many of the dozens of owners potentially subject to the ban have already paid their February stake payment installment.

[3] Steve Wolf, Allard’s Exclusion Includes Three Racetracks, HarnessLink, May 18, 2013.

[4] Dave Briggs, Why American Racetrack Owner Jeff Gural Is Taking a Stand on Integrity, Thoroughbred Racing Commentary, Apr. 8, 2015. (“[Banning trainers] has helped us at the Meadowlands. Look at some of our competitors where people we’ve banned are racing. Look at their handle… There are other factors, but from what I’ve seen, our handle dwarfs our competitors where the drug guys are allowed to race. One would think it does help, obviously.” (alterations in original)).

[5] Pena v. New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC, Civ. No. 12-2, 2012 WL 95344, at *1 (D.N.J. Jan. 10, 2012) (“Indeed, Plaintiff avers that Mr. Gural ‘has made public statements that he does not want Pena racing at the Meadowlands, for no apparent reason other than that Pena is winning so many races.”).

[6] Meadowlands Bans Driver George Brennan, Allegedly for Comments Made in NY Times, Paulick Report, June 4, 2012.

[7] Lifetime Ban – Now Retribution By Gural, HarnessLink, June 23, 2016.

[8] Bob Ehalt, Surveillance Firm Played Role in Federal Indictments, BloodHorse, Mar. 21, 2020.

[9] SeeECF No. 12,United States v. Grasso, 20-CR-163 (S.D.N.Y.), ECF No. 12 (describing “Additional Conditions,” including “Def[endant] not to train horses entered into any races” (emphasis added)).

[10] Ehalt, supranote 8.

[11] John Brennan, Meadowlands Racetrack Owner Sees Doping Scandal as a Long-Term Boost for Horse Racing, Online Gambling, Apr. 9, 2020.

– Doug Lieb / Kaufman Lieb Lebowitz & Frick LLP