Lou Pena's legal team are not the only ones devastated with last week's decision to deny Californian horseman Lou Pena a stay of proceedings which would have allowed him to race his horses in New York until his case with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board is heard.
One of California's finest harness racing drivers of the 1980s and 1990s, Gene Vallandingham can't believe what's happening to his long-time friend. He says the Lou Pena the Wagering Board portrayed is not the Lou Pena he has known for more than 30 years.
"This man is kindest man I know and on top of that a very good horseman. I feel sorry for the predicament he is in. He would give you the shirt off his back. He's just not a cheating type of person.
"It seems he has been hand-picked out, especially when not one of his horses has ever returned a positive," 71-year-old Vallandingham said.
Long Island lawyer Andrew J. Turro, confronted the Board last on Tuesday June 19 seeking the stay. It was denied on Friday.
"We are shattered for the time being," was all the defence team could tell Harnesslink.
Turro will now put all of his efforts into defending Pena against the doping charges.
In May Pena was suspended indefinitely by the New York State Racing and wagering Board for allegedly drugging horses in nearly 700 races in New York State - and in doing so amassing more than 1,700 equine drug violations.
It means Pena still isn't allowed to train his horses in New York until his case is heard before the Board, most likely in August.
Vallandingham likened the case to that of seven times Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, who also has his legacy threatened with doping charges.
"Both men have never returned one positive. Get off their backs. What Lou was doing everyone was doing. It seems to be a vet thing. He's not a cheater. He would bend over backwards for anyone.
"He's so kind that last Christmas Lou and his partner shipped a horse out to me from New York at their expense. The horse was a Christmas present. That's how nice a person Lou is," Sacramento-based Vallandingham said.
Vallandingham also spoke highly of Pena's horsemanship both as a driver and trainer.
"I've watched him with horses for years and when you are as good as Lou you don't have to cheat. Why would he? He's one of the most "down to earth' people I know," he said.
If anyone knows horse-flesh and what a well conditioned standardbred feels like - it's Vallandingham.
In the 1980s he was champion driver at several harness racing tracks in California.
These days he just trains and drives a team of nine at Cal Expo - and says he will never retire..
"It's another four months before we race again here in California. We only have Cal Expo now and sadly some of those great old tracks like Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos are no more. But I'll keep chugging along. You never retire in this business.
"But we are confident of a big turnaround in California soon with a new administration. The sport badly needs some positive press and hopefully California can lead the way in the next few years," Vallandingham said.
Vallandingham has driven 2,929 winners from 19,342 drives since 1977. The Lexington (Kentucky) native has also placed 5,348 times for $13.2 million in purses.
He's also trained 371 winners and netted $1.69m in stakes.
Footnote: Harnesslink has tried and tried to get Racing Board comment so it can put both sides of the story. Still nothing. Please someone from the Board talk to us at email@example.com
By Duane RANGER (editor)