By Christina Bossinakis
Kiaran McLaughlin, who has been a fixture on the New York racing scene for over three decades, confirmed to the TDN Thursday he will not be returning to his usual New York training base at Belmont Park this spring. McLaughlin, who is one of several New York-based horsemen who have been investigated by both the New York Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Labor, was fined $304,646 last November by the state Department of Labor for what was reported as a ‘violation of minimum wage requirements’. An investigation by the federal branch is ongoing and McLaughlin indicated he expects to receive a ruling ‘any day now’.
“Obviously we made a few little mistakes, but they can really be costly,” admitted McLaughlin. “And when they fined me over $300,000, it hurts my feelings. It hurts me because I’m a very good employer and I take good care of my staff. Okay, we made a few mistakes, but I thought it was excessive. I’m still under investigation [re. the H-2B visas] by the Feds and that fine is going to be coming out soon. And I just can’t afford to go back to New York because it’s very difficult to comply. So, we’re going to try a different direction.”
In addition to the investigations, and resulting fines, McLaughlin pointed to the overall high cost of maintaining a racing operation in the state; the varying rules governing minimum wage in each county; and differing rules applying to workers on the H2B visa program as contributing factors to his departure.
“It’s expensive wherever you are to take good care of a horse,” McLaughlin explained when asked about some of the challenges of the present-day trainer. “It’s also very difficult to comply [with the Labor Department’s rules] and get help. We’ve always had trouble getting staff that want to get there at 4:30 in the morning and work six or seven days a week. It’s hard. So, that’s the tough thing to comply with all the labor laws these days.”
McLaughlin indicated his current string of [approximately] 40 horses will be sent to Kentucky, his native state, and/or Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
“We’re at Palm Meadows now, but we put in for H-2B Visa’s for Kentucky and New Jersey, because our whole staff is on H-2B Visas,” he explained. “We have been approved in Kentucky and not approved yet in New Jersey. So, at this time, we’ll head to Kentucky in April and see if the Visas come through for New Jersey. We might split up, or go to New Jersey with all of them. We’ll see how we do at Keeneland in April, for now.”
Already familiar with Monmouth Park, McLaughlin spent five years in the late 80’s at the Oceanport oval as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He departed the famed operation in 1991.
“Well, if we go to New Jersey, we can easily ship an hour and a half up the road to Belmont and run there if we have the horse that needs to run in New York,” he said. “It’s tricky to have a full time staff there and set up in New York. We feel like we could go there with 10% or 20% of our stakes horses. We’re still close enough to go to New York and, hopefully, the clients/owners are okay with that. As for Kentucky, the purses are going through the roof. The racing is great and they like horse racing in Kentucky. We’ve always gone to the Keeneland spring and fall meets. So, we are looking at Kentucky strongly, too.”
When asked if he would be sad to leave New York after calling it home for the past two decades, McLaughlin said, “Yes, New York has been very very good to me and my family.”