By Bill Finley
According to a ruling posted on the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission's website, trainer Ricardo (Richie) Vega had been “summarily suspended” by the stewards at Parx Racetrack.
The story was first reported by the website www.theracingbiz.com.
The decision comes after the racing commission staged a backstretch raid at Parx over the weekend of May 22-23. Investigators searched cars, barns and grooms' quarters. Tom Chuckas, who heads the Pennsylvania Racing Commission, reported to his fellow regulators during a Zoom call that “a significant amount of contraband” had been uncovered and that the contraband included, “items that have no business on the backside.”
On the day of Chuckas' announcement, all three horses trained by Vega were scratched by the stewards. He has not had a runner since.
The stewards issued their suspension on May 24, but it was appealed by Vega's lawyer. On May 27, the appeal was heard and denied.
In the notification of Vega's suspension, the commission cited Rule 401.61, which reads, “Possession of hypodermic needles, syringes and injectable substances. No person, except a Commission Veterinarian, racetrack veterinarian or veterinarian licensed by the Commission, may possess or use a hypodermic needle, hypodermic syringe capable of accepting a needle and injectable substances of any kind, type or description on the licensed racetrack grounds, in that person's custody, control or possession.”
According to the ruling, investigators found, “multiple loaded needles and syringes” in Vega's tack room. It also noted that the needles included injectable substances.
The ruling also notes that licensees are not permitted to “engage in inappropriate, illegal or unethical conduct which violates the Commission's rules and regulations of racing, is inconsistent with the best interests and integrity of racing or otherwise undermines the general public's faith, public perception and confidence in the racing industry.”
While suspended, Vega will be “denied the privileges of the grounds” of all racetracks in Pennsylvania,” a ban that will be honored by the other tracks in the state as well as all racetracks outside of Pennsylvania.
Vega emigrated from Cuba in 1980 and began his career on the racetrack as a groom in Florida. He was the leading trainer at Philadelphia Park in 1998 and was later voted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame. Training since 1992, Vega has won 1,115 races and his stable has earned $19.5 million.
Vega has the option of appealing the ruling to the Pennsylvania Racing Commission.