NYRA Schedules Hearings, Issues Charges, for Baffert, Vitali

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Bob Baffert | Fasig-Tipton photo

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) has issued charges and scheduled hearings for trainers Bob Baffert and Marcus Vitali, NYRA announced Friday morning.

“NYRA contends that Mr. Baffert and Mr. Vitali have engaged in conduct that is detrimental to the best interests of the sport of Thoroughbred racing or potentially injurious to the health or safety of horses or riders,” they said in a press release. “Further, as detailed in the respective statements of charges, this conduct warrants revocation or suspension of their right to train horses, enter races, or engage in any racing-related activity at all NYRA properties including Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.”

The statement goes on to say that NYRA has established “Hearing Rules and Procedures that provide a formalized mechanism for a respondent to reply to charges and to participate in a hearing in accordance with due process rights.” Baffert's hearing is scheduled to begin Sept. 27, 2021, while Vitali's is scheduled to begin Sept. 30.

Baffert's attorney, Craig Robertson, called the action on the part of NYRA “improper.”

“The Federal Court in New York enjoined NYRA from enforcing its suspension of Mr. Baffert pending a conclusion of that suit,” said Robertson via email. “That suit has not been concluded. As such, this is an improper attempt by NYRA to circumvent the Judge's ruling. We will address it accordingly.”

“NYRA has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the sport of Thoroughbred racing,” said NYRA President & CEO Dave O'Rourke. “We are determined to ensure the actions taken in furtherance of that goal comport with the requirements of due process, which is what the hearing rules and procedures established by NYRA provide.”

NYRA said that a designated hearing officer would ensure fairness and impartiality of the hearing's proceedings, in accordance with NYRA's hearing rules and procedures. Following the proceeding, the hearing officers will issue a report containing findings of fact, conclusions, and a recommended disposition, the release says.

Peter Sherwood, a retired New York State Supreme Court Justice, will serve as hearing officer in the Baffert case. Robert Smith, a retired Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, will serve as hearing officer in the Mr. Vitali matter.

NYRA's full hearing rules and procedures may be read here.

NYRA announced that it had suspended Baffert May 17, after his Medina Spirit (Protonico) tested positive for Betamethasone in the GI Kentucky Derby. Baffert ultimately got an injunction, and, on June 14, filed suit in the U.S. States District Court, Eastern District of New York, against NYRA, charging violations of his constitutional Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

Included in the press release were letters delivered to Baffert and Vitali on Friday, informing the trainers of their hearing dates and asking them to reply in writing within five days, and to appear via video conference on the hearing dates. They also delivered an 11-page statement of charges to Baffert, which recounts the now-familiar tale of four medication violates in the year preceding this year's Kentucky Derby, and then the Medina Spirit Betamethasone positive in the Derby.

It concludes, “Respondent's conduct has impeded NYRA's ability to effectively supervise the activities at the racetracks it operates so that its patrons have confidence that the sport is honestly conducted, protecting competitors from the participation in tainted horse races, and safeguarding the wagering public. As a result of Respondent's conduct, NYRA seeks to exercise its reasonable discretionary business judgment to exclude Respondent from entering or stabling horses on the grounds it operates, or any portion of such grounds.”

The complete statement of charges may be read here.

Vitali's statement of charges reads, in part, “From between in or about 2010 and in or about 2020, Respondent amassed an extensive record of medication violations, lengthy suspensions, improperly using “program” or “paper” trainers during suspensions and obstructing an investigation into alleged wrongdoing. In the past five years, Respondent was denied entry, ejected and/or had license applications denied by regulators of Thoroughbred racing in Florida, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Delaware; and was sanctioned by The Jockey Club for violating a racing statute, rule or regulation relating to prohibited or restricted drugs, medications or substances seven times in a single year.” They also seek to exclude him from racing at NYRA tracks. The complete statement may be read here.

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