The Week in Review: Suspension of NYRA Clocker a Disgrace

Saratoga | Horsephotos


The New York Gaming Commission has made so many bad decisions of late that it would be laughable if not for the fact they keep going after good people who have done nothing wrong.

The latest chapter is the story of NYRA clocker Richie Gazer.

Back in May, Gazer was handed a 30-day suspension and fined $2,500 “for altering a published work of a horse to make the horse eligible to race.” The horse in question, Papi On Ice (Keen Ice) was originally credited for a five-furlong workout on May 1 in the time of 1:04.60. At the time, the horse was on NYRA's “poor performance” list, the result of his having been eased in a Mar. 19 race and then losing by 26 3/4 lengths in a Apr. 16 race. In order to get off the list and to be able to race again, he needed a published four-furlong workout in:53 or faster. Oddly, the rule, which is a NYRA rule, requires that the work must be at four furlongs and at no other distance. When made aware that the work had to be a half-mile in order for the horse to get off the list, Gazer changed the distance to four furlongs and the time to what was Papi On Ice's split for a half-mile, :51.33. The Gaming Commission then stepped in and cited a rule that prohibits “improper, corrupt or fraudulent acts or practices in relation to racing or conspiring or assisting others in such acts or practices,” pretty harsh language for a case where all the clocker did was shorten the distance of a workout by an eighth of a mile.

Gazer refused to roll over, hired a lawyer and filed an appeal. A seven-hour hearing was held and the hearing officer recommended that the case be thrown out and that Gazer should not be penalized. It appeared that Gazer had won. But the case took a 180-degree turn last week when the Gaming Commission rejected the hearing officer's recommendation and voted 6-0 to uphold the original suspension. Karen Murphy, the lawyer representing Gazer, told the TDN that in the 30 years she has been dealing with New York racing regulators never before had she had a commission reject a decision from a hearing officer. Why even use a hearing officer if you are going to ignore what they have to say?

This all comes down to a matter of common sense. Gazer used his when he approved changing the distance of the workout, which was necessary to allow the horse to race and, otherwise, affected nothing. The rule is in place to keep clockers from playing games, giving a horse a five-furlong workout in 1:03 when they actually went in :58. That's not what happened here.

But common sense is in short supply when it comes to the Gaming Commission. Perhaps by the very letter of the rule, Gazer was guilty of some sort of infraction. The best way to handle this would have been to issue a warning and to tell him not to do it again. Use common sense. Don't fine him, suspend him and try to sully his reputation with outlandish charges of corruption and fraud. Don't go to such great lengths that the commission, by a 6-0 vote, ignored the findings of a hearing officer.

“Everybody is horrified,” Murphy said. “Richard Gazer has been doing this for 40 years and is respected by everyone. You should be pinning a medal on someone like him, not telling the world he is fraudster.”

It's all part of a troubling pattern. Since April, the Gaming Commission and its steward, Braulio Baeza Jr., have sanctioned four NYRA employees a total of five times and levied fines totaling $14,500. In most cases, it was nothing more than a case of the person making an honest mistake.

In June, Frank Gabriel, the New York Racing Association senior vice president of racing operations, was fined $4,000 for “failing to follow proper claiming protocol” resulting in the track stewards voiding the claim of the horse Battalion (Tiznow) on May 28. There was a mixup regarding the claim of the horse. The horse was claimed for $25,000 by trainer Rob Atras, but the claim was not relayed to the clerk of scales, so the horse was not brought to the test barn. That led to the voiding of the claim.

Someone made a mistake. It happens. And never mind that Gabriel had nothing to do with this. Nonetheless, Baeza saw reason to sanction him because, he told the Daily Racing Form, Gabriel was the head of the racing department.

NYRA Racing Secretary Keith Doleshel has been fined twice since April, on one occasion $2,000 for “failing to conduct business in a professional manner.” According to NYRA, here's what happened: “Due to an unintentional administrative error, an unauthorized agent claimed a horse. . . . NYRA subsequently discovered the error and notified the NYSGC of its findings.” A horse was claimed at Saratoga by someone who was not licensed by the Gaming Commission or registered with the Jockey Club. But, again, it was an “unintentional error” committed by someone who has never previously been accused of being unprofessional and the mistake was caught. Doleshel has appealed the ruling through his attorney, Drew Mollica.

As for Gazer, there doesn't appear to be a path whereby the fine and suspension can now be overturned. Murphy says she plans to make the point that the Gaming Commission didn't follow procedure when it comes to transparency. The commissioners did not debate or discuss the details of the case during the open, public meeting, which she says is required.

“The chairman knows nothing about racing and shouldn't have done what he did,” she said of Gaming Commission Chairman Brian O'Dwyer. “We all should be upset about this on legal grounds.”

But that's probably not going to help Gazer. He will have to pay his fine and sit out 30 days, the latest example of an overreach by the New York Gaming Commission and its steward. Someone who has been doing this a long time and has earned a reputation for being a straight shooter, Gazer deserved far better.

The Woodward and Cigar Mile Downgraded

The American Graded Stakes Committee showed some tough love to NYRA last week, downgrading the Woodward S. and the Cigar Mile H., from Grade I races to Grade II's. The move wasn't without controversy. The Woodward is a prestigious race with a long, rich history. Twenty of its winners are in the Hall of Fame. During a seven-year stretch beginning in 1974, the race was won by Forego (four straight), Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid. This year's Cigar Mile included four Grade I winners, including the winner Mind Control (Stay Thirsty), which made the timing of the downgrade a bit puzzling.

As tough as this may have been for NYRA to swallow, it was the right move. Everyone complains that, considering the declining number in the foal crop and that top horses usually only race four or five times a year, there are too many graded races and too many Grade I's. You can't have it both ways and complain about the Woodward and the Cigar. The committee is to be commended for making some tough decisions. There are still 440 graded races and 97 Grade I's. That's too many.

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