State racing stewards disqualified Valhol as winner of the Arkansas Derby and suspended jockey Billy Patin on Wednesday after concluding he carried a banned electrical device.
Stewards ordered that Valhol's $300,000 winner's share of the purse be returned and redistributed. Second-place finisher Certain was declared the winner.
Patin was fined $2,500 and suspended through the end of 1999 the maximum punishment available to stewards. The three-member panel referred the matter to the Arkansas Racing Commission with the suggestion it extend Patin's suspension through May 5, 2004.
Under rules of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Patin's suspension will apply not only to Arkansas but to races in all states, steward Leland Seba said.
Patin said he would appeal the decision to the state Racing Commission because the stewards ruling would "tear apart" his career.
Valhol owner James D. Jackson, who wasn't accused of any wrongdoing, defended Patin, whom he replaced for Valhol's run in the Kentucky Derby. Valhol finished 15th in a 19-horse field.
"I just don't think they had enough evidence to prove anything. Most everything they had was circumstantial, it's assumption," Jackson said.
The stewards' decision came after watching repeated replays of a videotape showing a black object falling from Patin's left hand after he rode Valhol to victory in the Arkansas Derby.
Patin watched without expression as the tape showed him crossing the finish line and then galloping his horse into the first turn. At that point, the object drops from his hand. The video was enlarged and shown in slow motion.
"The picture is worth a thousand words. The tape pretty much speaks for itself," Seba said after the decision.
Patin, testifying under oath, suggested the black object may have been one of the rubber bands he used to hold down the sleeves of his shirt to prevent wind from blowing up them. He said that when he returned to the jockey room after the race, he was missing one of the four rubber bands.
"It could have broke off. That's maybe the object that fell off my hand," Patin told the three stewards for Oaklawn Park.
Oaklawn lawyer Jim Simpson called Patin's explanation "an insult to your intelligence."
"This is something that racing as a whole cannot stand," Simpson said in arguing for the stewards to disqualify Valhol and remove the purse from its owner, trainer and jockey.
Five days after the April 10 race, Oaklawn president Charles J. Cella told the state Racing Commission that the track has "evidence that the jockey aboard the winner may have been in possession of an electrical device during the race." At Cella's request, the Racing Commission ordered the track to suspend distribution of the purse pending an investigation.
Eventually, Jackson went to court and a judge released the first-plae check so that Jackson's horse could have sufficient earnings to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Jackson said he's spent none of the money.
Finishing behind Valhol in the Arkansas Derby were Certain, Torrid Sand and Ecton Park, Answer Lively and Etbauer, who by moving up to fifth place now becomes eligible for a share of the winnings.
Tractor driver Ismeal "Smiley" Sanchez told the stewards Wednesday that he found a device on the track after the Arkansas Derby. Stewards viewed the device, which included batteries wrapped in black electrical tape with metal prongs extending from the end. Sanchez said he found the device in the first turn.
Patin lawyer J. Minos Simon attempted to show through questioning that the device could have been turned up by tractors. But Sanchez said the device was rather fresh looking and was not caked with dirt.
"This quantum leap will just not stand constitutional muster," Simon said in a closing statement to stewards. "You can't just say from the existence of this picture and the subsequent finding of this device on the track, automatically that means that this jockey here had it in his possession."
Oaklawn turned over its evidence to the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, the investigative branch of the thoroughbred racing industry, and TRPB president Paul Berube testified Wednesday that fingerprint tests were inconclusive on the device. He said a microphone worn by Patin during the race picked up static shortly before and after the three-eighths mile marker on the track. He said that's approximately the point that Valhol took the lead. Berube said the static heard on the audio tape matched that of the device when tested in the lab.
Under cross examination, Berube acknowledged that the microphone could pick up noises within 25 feet. There were five or six horses within that range.
Simon questioned Berube about the effect of the device on a horse, but Berube said the device was not tested on a horse and he would object to doing so.
Simon showed a videotaped re-enactment of a 3-year-old horse being shocked with an electrical device while galloping at his ranch and also of Patin dropping a black rubber band from the horse. Valhol did not react as the shocked horse did, Simon said, and the rubber band resembled the black object in the Oaklawn video.
Valhol was second in a maiden race and fourth in the Louisiana Derby in his only two outings prior to the Arkansas Derby. As a 30-1 shot in the field of seven, he paid $62.80 to win after a 4 1/2-length victory.
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