Though the Equine Herpesvirus-1 quarantine on horses stabled at Barn 86 at Saratoga Race Course was lifted Aug. 1, the ill feelings from the parameters of sidelining those horses have not.
Attorney Andrew Mollica filed a demand Sunday on behalf of trainer Ken McPeek for a hearing with the New York State Gaming Commission over its ruling to deny the taking of entries on any of the horses involved in the quarantine until Sunday, preventing those horses from racing the until the Aug. 6 card, which is drawn Sunday.
McPeek, who has 30 horses at Barn 86 that were placed under a 21-day quarantine retroactive to July 11, tried to enter one horse for Sunday's card on July 29, three on July 30 for the Aug. 4 card, and three on July 31 for the Aug. 5 program, but those entries were denied by state's Gaming Commission steward Braulio Baeza Jr., who cited that entries for those horses could not be accepted until Sunday.
McPeek and Mollica contend it was not made clear that entries could not be accepted until Sunday and that it is "illogical" and "nonsensical" to deny horses the right to race on the same day they were cleared to rejoin the equine community and resume working out at the main track and Oklahoma Training Track as normal.
"I am doing this so that the next time this happens, trainers and owners will not have to go through another situation like this where there are an extra three to five days when their horses cannot run because there is no clarity in New York. I don't want to see anyone else go through this," McPeek said. "Officials need to address some standard operating procedures and protocols for everyone that make sense. To keep horses who have cleared quarantine from not running is nonsensical."
In his request for a hearing, Mollica wrote that he was "demanding a hearing for clarity and any just relief deemed proper by the New York State Gaming Commission for the irrevocable harm caused by the arbitrary and capricious denial of the ability to enter eligible horses trained by McPeek in races at Saratoga Racecourse subsequent to August 1, 2021, in violation of the Commission's publicly announced policy to permit such participation."
He added in the letter, "Mr. McPeek, (and his owners) were put on Public Notice by the Commission that the horses effected by the quarantine would be released from quarantine and permitted to both rejoin the general horse population (and race) on August 1, 2021. (See numerous press releases and news stories giving notice attached hereto as Exhibit A). Mr. McPeek (and his owners) detrimentally relied upon this publicly disseminated official policy to prepare his horses to rejoin the general horse population and in turn race at Saratoga Racecourse commencing August 1, 2021."
Mollica said he reached out to Baeza July 30 in hopes of the entries being accepted in advance of an immediate hearing to determine whether they could run, but did not receive a response.
"Our position is very clear. We were told we were clear Aug. 1. If you wouldn't let us run on that day, wouldn't you say that? No one said anything to us about that. We followed their protocols. Kenny detrimentally relied on the commitment they made to him and his owners," Mollica said. "He entered Thursday because he was told he was clear Aug. 1. Not only is this arbitrary and capricious, the game is hard enough without the Commission working against people. It's illogical."
Baeza would not comment on the matter due to legal concerns.
McPeek said the situation should have been handled better by Baeza and the Racing Commission.
"There are certain officials that could have done a better job handling this. We were supposed to start back Aug. 1, then we were able to run Aug. 1, then the state steward decided that we couldn't, which we have never been given an explanation for, which, to me, is unacceptable. That's been disconcerting," McPeek said. "Martin Panza (the New York Racing Association's senior vice president of racing operations) has done a fantastic job of keeping me informed, doing everything he could, and fighting for what we need. I'm very disappointed in the state steward (Baeza). I think he's done us an injustice. We should have been able to run (Sunday) and to add three more race days to this is wrong. It's one of the worst decisions I've ever seen by a racing official. I don't get it.
"What's the logic here?" he added. "It's been easier for (trainers) Marcus Vitali and Bob Baffert to run at Saratoga than me."
Among the McPeek horses who exited quarantine Sunday and worked out were Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Swiss Skydiver (five furlongs in 1:01.21 on the main track), grade 3 winner King Fury (five furlongs in 1:01.25 on the Oklahoma turf course), who worked in company with Fighting Seabee, and 2-year-old filly Penny Saver. Swiss Skydiver is headed to the Aug. 7 Whitney Stakes (G1) while King Fury is expected to run in a grass race Saturday as a prep for the Aug. 28 Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1).