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No Ban for Rice, But Fine Doubled to $100,000

New York regulators accepted a court ruling against a three-year ban of trainer.

Linda Rice

Linda Rice

Coglianese Photos/Walter Wlodarczyk

A month after a state appeals court rejected as overly harsh and "shockingly unfair" the New York State Gaming Commission's 2021 decision to revoke the license of Thoroughbred trainer Linda Rice, the same agency's board Oct. 3 said it has no choice but to accept the judicial branch's ruling.

But instead of imposing a three-year license revocation of Rice, the regulatory body Tuesday afternoon said it will double the original fine levied against the trainer to $100,000.

Gaming Commission chairman Brian O'Dwyer said the appeals court in June agreed Rice "blatantly broke" the rules of racing "by conspiring with others to choose the optimal races for her horses."

Noting, however, that the appeals court slapped down the Gaming Commission's three-year license revocation of Rice, O'Dwyer said: "We respectfully disagree with that decision, but we are constrained by law to follow it.''

The board met earlier in private Oct. 3 and OK'd increasing the state fine against Rice in the matter from $50,000 to $100,000. "The vote was unanimous in that regard,'' O'Dwyer said.

Andrew Turro, a Long Island lawyer who represented Rice in the matter, said after the commission's meeting Tuesday afternoon: "I'm very, very happy that this is over for Linda and that she can now focus on what she loves and does best."

The racing regulatory agency in 2021 accused Rice of being part of a "corrupt" scheme to gain an edge with her horses by obtaining the names of entries in races at New York Racing Association's Aqueduct Racetrack before the cards became final. Besides levying a $50,000 fine, the Gaming Commission more than two years ago revoked Rice's license to do business in New York for three years.

Rice appealed the matter to the state courts. In June, a five-member, mid-level appeals court in New York rejected the revocation for being "disproportionate to the offense,'' saying NYRA was also to blame for part of the matter because of the sharing by some racing clerks of advance information about horses entered in some races as a way to bolster a race's field size.

The case handled Tuesday is separate from another dispute Rice is having with New York racing regulators. She was recently suspended for 14 days after one of her horses that raced in January tested positive for phenylbutazone. Rice appealed the decision, which automatically stayed the suspension until the case is considered by a hearing officer.

After setting its penalty against Rice in May 2021, the Gaming Commission said she engaged in behavior "detrimental" to racing by receiving the names in advance of horses entered in some Aqueduct races from 2011 to 2015. The board's action came after a state-appointed hearing officer, following a marathon hearing process featuring 15 witnesses, ruled that Rice engaged in an intentional way to gain advance, confidential information about upcoming races.

Earlier this summer, an appeals court slapped down the Gaming Commission's revocation penalty against Rice, 59, who has been a licensed trainer since 1987. "Petitioner argues, and we agree, that the penalty of a three-year revocation of her license is so disproportionate to the offense and shockingly unfair as to constitute an abuse of discretion as a matter of law," the opinion written by presiding judge Michael C. Lynch stated in June. "NYRA bears much of the responsibility for what happened in this matter by fostering an aptly named 'hustling' process without a defined written rule or diligent oversight.

"It is evident from the record that racing clerks would occasionally share the names of horses to entice trainers into entering their horses—all in NYRA's best interest to establish a full race card of eight to 10 races a day. The key difference in petitioner's case is that she received the horse names on a regular, prolonged basis."

The court in June did, however, uphold the penalty imposed by the Gaming Commission against Rice, noting that state law permits a penalty of $25,000 per violation and that many violations were committed over several years. The case was first brought by state agency officials in 2019.

In other commission developments, Robert Williams, executive director of the agency, and O'Dwyer said the Gaming Commission is still studying a plan to require a trainer's attending veterinarian to evaluate a Thoroughbred horse's fitness within 72 hours of a race or workout.

Williams explained the delay of the rule the commission preliminarily approved in July. He said a number of circumstances have changed since the agency this year began looking at the proposed veterinarian rule, including the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority requiring veterinarians to be on track during morning workouts.

NYRA, he said, has since also expanded rules to address veterinary exams. He said the agency also received more than two dozen comments, mostly from Thoroughbred owners and trainers, raising a number of concerns about the proposal, including added costs and whether there are enough veterinarians available to permit them to meet the proposed requirements.

O'Dwyer called the proposal "very important" because "it deals with the health and safety of our equine athletes." But, he added, "I think it should not be rushed" as the agency's staff works on the matter with various stakeholders.