It's been 279 days since controversial California harness racing trainer Lou Pena last lined up a horse on race-day. One day after being granted permission to train and own standardbreds again Pena is now seriously thinking about switching codes.
“I want to train the winner of the Kentucky Derby - and I know I will! It seems to me that if you succeed, or do well in harness racing, you are branded a cheat.
“Whereas in the galloping world if you keep winning they embrace you and dub you a champion,” Pena told Harnesslink in a one-to-one exclusive.
His lawyer Andrew Turro broke the news to Harnesslink soon after leaving the hearing at the Supreme Court of New York in Schenectady County.
Pena was suspended indefinitely by the New York Racing & Wagering Board for allegedly drugging horses in nearly 700 races in New York State - and in doing so he amassed more than 1,700 equine drug violations.
“I have to be both diligent and cautious now because there could still be an appeal. I don’t know whether to buy horses or claim them – and if I do buy on behalf of people - who is going to let me train them? It’s a tricky situation.
“I have a lot of thinking to do. I was innocent all along but was deprived of earning an income for no reason. Thoroughbreds are a definite option because of that,” Pena said.
As of February 1, the NYRWB operated under the arm of the Commission. Pena said he had no animosity towards them.
“The Commission finally saw sense and realised they had no case. I now have great faith in the United States Justice Department.
“I have been in a black hole for a while and now thanks to Andrew and his team I can hold my head high and get on with what I do best – training horseflesh,” said Pena.
Pena is a better than average horseman. He's been the leading training on the East Coast for a couple of seasons before being red carded.
Since 1992 he has trained 2,770 winners from 12,748 starters, which equates to a very healthy 0.348 UDR strike rate. During that time he has netted $22.8 million in purses.
His best years were 2011 and 2010 when he trained 513 ($7.1m) and 525 ($7.2m) winners respectively.
Meanwhile respected Californian lawyer, racehorse owner, and Pena supporter Carlo Fisco said it was a "great day” for harness racing.
"Tremendous thanks should go to all the people, including Lou himself, who kept up the fight for what we all knew was the right thing. His attorneys should be commended for making a compelling argument and the Judge should be lauded for showing such courage and insight.
“My hope is that this will be a clear message to all those in racing occupying powerful positions as either racing commissions or track management to stop harming our wonderful industry by continuing to pander to the evil phobia of fear and ignorance which is the mainstay of the uneducated and resentful.
“Leadership is never measured in dollars, but rather in doing the right thing. Witch hunts based on rumor and jealousies, with self-appointed "investigators" sneaking around licensed barn areas is the farthest thing from doing the right thing," Fisco said.
Pena said he had one message for harness racing officialdom.
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I hope they remember my case when ganging up on some other poor horseman or woman. Everyone should have a right to earn and not be bullied."
Pena said he celebrated the good news with a family dinner.
“It was the most delicious meal I’ve had in ages. It went down real smooth. To say I’m ecstatic is an understatement. I have had hundreds of well-wishers thanks to your website. (We broke the news world-wide).
“I am extremely grateful to everyone who has given me their support. The witch-hunt is over,” said Pena who was in California when he got the result of his hearing.
Meanwhile the general manager of Cal Expo harness Chris Schick had the following to say on Pena’s judgement:
“Our position on Lou is that he is welcome to train and drive at Cal Expo if his license is cleared by the California Horse Racing Board.”
The New York Gaming Commission was unavailable for comment when contacted by Harnesslink.
By Duane RANGER (editor)
In The Sulky with Lou Pena (2010):