By T. D. Thornton
Richie Gazer, the longtime NYRA head clocker who is set to begin a 30-day suspension and pay a $2,500 fine for “altering a published work of a horse to make the horse eligible to race,” has been denied a stay of his penalties by the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) while he seeks to elevate the case to the state court level.
Gazer's attorney, Karen Murphy, confirmed the NYSGC's denial to TDN on Friday afternoon, shortly after the commission emailed her the decision stating the stay would not be granted. She said at this point, Gazer has exhausted all his commission-level appeals.
“This is a purely vindictive response. I am actually shocked by the whole thing,” Murphy said.
In making the case for a stay to be granted, Murphy had written to the commission that Gazer's “absence from his duties as the Head Clocker for the significant suspension imposed will be harmful to all NY horsemen and horsewomen whose horses rely on his daily services.”
On Dec. 12, the NYSGC voted unanimously to uphold Gazer's commission-level appeal of penalties by rejecting a hearing officer's recommendation that the case be dismissed.
Instead, the commissioners imposed the original penalties that had been handed down earlier in the year by Braulio Baeza, Jr., the NYSGC state steward at the three New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks.
Gazer's penalty stems from a May 19, 2022, stewards' ruling in which he changed a published five-furlong work by subsequently substituting the correct four-furlong split from within that longer work.
The purpose of providing the half-mile timing was to make a horse eligible to come off NYRA's “poor performance” list, which is governed by a seldom-triggered rule that does not allow for a workout farther than four furlongs.
“The decision to issue the penalty [is] without precedent and lacking strong basis to affirm the decision…” hearing officer Dayrel Sewell wrote in his Oct. 21 report that recommended vacating Gazer's penalty. “Respondent has a spotless 40-year track record, and there is no evidence of corruption or favoritism towards a trainer(s) during his employment as head clocker.
“Although there is no regulation [specific to what Gazer was accused of doing], the Stewards have discretion on how to handle this, but the discretion must be proportionate to the harm and there must be boundaries to the practice of discretion,” the hearing officer summed up.
The commissioners' outright rejection of the hearing officer's months of work in conducting the hearing and writing up the report is somewhat unusual. But in most state jurisdictions, racing commissioners are not bound to accept the opinions of the hearing officers, who are often attorneys, that they hire to hear appeals.
An exasperated Gazer has called the entire ordeal “a joke.” On Dec. 18, TDN's Bill Finley editorialized that the decision by the NYSGC to penalize the clocker was a “disgrace” that bucked common sense.
Murphy told TDN on Dec. 30 that Gazer is still clocking horses, and that he has yet to be informed when his suspension is supposed to start.
“He's at work and he'll be able work until [Baeza] sets the [dates for the] suspension down,” Murphy said. “But am I going to be able to get into court and get an injunction to stop that suspension? I think that's probably a hope that is beyond our reach at this point.”
Murphy explained that Gazer's court appeal involves a type of filing known as Article 78, which is a New York law by which a petitioner asks a court to review a decision or action of a state official or administrative agency to determine whether such action was unlawful.
Murphy added though, that petitioners have to weigh whether going through the courts is worth it, because Article 78 cases are expensive to litigate and often languish in the court system for months or even years.
TDN asked Patrick McKenna, NYRA's vice president of communications, if there was anything trainers needed to know about the morning clocking routine given Gazer's pending suspension and the in-limbo court appeal.
“Richie Gazer is a deeply experienced professional whose presence and skills as a clocker would absolutely be missed at Belmont Park should the NYSGC suspension take effect,” McKenna wrote in an email. “That said, NYRA does have the necessary staff in place to adequately cover his duties.”
Back on Dec. 12, NYSGC chairman Brian O'Dwyer said during the meeting that, “The commission reviewed the entire record [and] established the violation as a matter of fact…. And in particular, found that the conduct was improper in relation to commission rule 4042.1(f).”
That rule prohibits “improper, corrupt or fraudulent” acts or practices in relation to racing or conspiring or assisting others in such acts or practices.
Along with O'Dwyer, NYSGC commissioners John Crotty, Peter Moschetti, Jr., Christopher Riano, Marissa Shorenstein and Jerry Skurnik all voted in favor of rejecting the hearing officer's recommendations not to penalize Gazer.
The outcome of their vote, which had taken place at some point prior to the open, public meeting, was simply read into the record, and the commissioners did not debate any specifics or discuss findings during the Dec. 12 meeting itself.
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