Dean Eckley is a harness racing trainer that has been surrounded by controversy.
As a licensed trainer his horses have won over $1.5 million in purse earning. In 2010 alone, his horses earned over $750,000. He has trained some top notch horses, including Jeremys Successor who raced in the Presidential at the Meadowlands and the Levy Series at Yonkers.
His USTA training record contains a laundry list of violations including suspensions, fines, and a positive test for a drug violation. He was arrested in New York for cruelty to animals. His license was suspended in Virginia for a positive test. His record also includes numerous paddock violations and fines for improper conduct and language.
We sat down with Dean to do a one-on-one interview to allow him to respond to these actions. We gave him the forum to answer questions about his training record and questionable conduct. He was willing for Harnesslink.com to ask any and all questions, no holds-barred.
One-on-One is done exclusively for Harnesslink.com by Brian McEvoy
HLINK: What are you up to at present? I see you are on record for training five horses up in Maine.
DE: I thought it would be a lot easier to jump back in and start training again. They are saying we are a private track and we don't need your business. I went to Pocono Downs and I qualified some horses. They told me my stall application was approved. I went to enter some horse and they told me it was on hold. They told me to call back in two weeks. When I called back they told me you need to get a handful of starts someplace else. I went up to Maine and got a handful of starts. They said Maine does not count. Their is still misinformation on my USTA record. On the advice of my lawyer I am waiting for it to be cleared up before applying somewhere else.
HLINK: Have you been restored to good standing in New York and Virginia? Do you have a license in New York?
DE: I am in good standing in both states. My license expired in New York. I never reapplied.
HLINK: You raced at Northfield Park. Is that an option for you?
DE: I went up to Northfield when I heard the rumors that I had a positive in Virginia. We had a mutual agreement that until everything is resolved, I would race someplace else. Everybody wants me to go someplace else and race there first. I had over 300 starts last year, and was racing everywhere. They still act like I am guilty. They are wrong.
HLINK: There are two major situations that we need to talk about. You were charged with beating a horse in New York. It says you overdrove a horse into a barn door and unmercifully whipped the horse till it bled. What is your side of the story as to what happened?
DE: There is no real side of the story to what happened. A girl was working in the barn next to me. She got fired. She asked me for a job. I told her I had no openings. I lied to her. I knew she was bad help. The next day I hired another gentleman and she found out about it. She made up a story that I beat a horse. They came in and questioned my grooms. They tested my horses. I didn't hear anything about it for weeks. Next thing, the cops came and arrested me for it.
HLINK: This girl just reported you and made up this story? She did not report it to the racetrack?
DE: She reported this to the Hudson Valley SPCA. The SPCA never came out or asked me any questions
HLINK: Are there other witnesses to what you say is a made up story?
DE: I had a couple of grooms who went to the New York Wagering Board and told them the real story. The grooms told them what was really going on in the barn. They went and found the girl. She told them that she made up the story. It was dismissed immediately. The New York Racing and Wagering Board gave me my license back right away.
HLINK: Over what time period did this all take place? Were you able to race in New York?
DE: They gave me a stay after three weeks. She did not show up at the hearing. All the racetracks didn't want my business. Ever since I have not been able to race in New York. It's not just me. Yonkers kicked my girlfriend (Brittany Dillon) out two years ago because she was associated with me. She has an immaculate record. She raced all last year with her stable without me. We both had our own stables. She got crucified along with me for association. That is wrong.
HLINK: Did you ever have a positive test in New York?
DE: I never had a positive test in my life. The only thing I have ever had was a high babamine test. I had a four horse stable at Colonial. The vet gave the medication late to the horse. Other then that I have had no medication violations at all.
HLINK: You were given a fine and five year suspension of your license for a positive in Virginia.
DE: I was not guilty. I went to my first hearing and they had lost the split sample. They couldn't come up with a split sample. They said they were going to give me a $10,000 fine and a five year suspension. Virginia rules say they can not make a ruling without the results of another sample. They gave me a stay right away. I went to the commission hearings and they still couldn't produce the split sample.
HLINK: How long did this process play out in Virginia?
DE: The ruling was December 16th. I had a hearing January 21st. I had a hearing in February that was canceled. They canceled again in March. The convened in April and it was dismissed.
HLINK: Are you able to race in Virginia again?
DE: I would never race in Virginia again. I don't know if they would allow me to race there. They treated me like dirt. Never!
HLINK: Your license is revoked in Chicago?
DE: If you look on my record, my license is revoked in Chicago and New York for the same thing. It is for the animal charge. It all ties together. If you go the USTA, you have to dig to find the dirt. They will post the bad right up at the front. Unless you dig you can not find the good. It was restored in good standing.
HLINK: Were you ever guilty of any other positive tests other than Virginia?
DE: I was never guilty of any mediation violations other then in Virginia. The vet admitted giving the medication too late.
HLINK: In the period of time when you have not been able to train at any tracks, were you bearding? Were you training horses but not listed as the trainer on those horses?
DE: No. If you look at my USTA record I have had registered starts almost every year. If I was training horses they were in my name.
HLINK: You have had some association with people who have had misconduct. What was your association with Darren Tanneyhill? He was busted with needles at Pompano.
DE: He sent me a horse in late summer. He could not get her to go. I trained her and that was it. I had that horse long before that incident happened in Pompano. The horse was sold before that ever happened.
HLINK: There is a lot of stuff out there about you.
DE: That is just wrong. People don't want to work. People want to complain that I win races. I would be one of few people on the track at Northfield early in the morning. Other trainers would get there for a few hours, and then go play golf. They don't want to bust their butt. I had better horses. I would jam $10,000 claimers in for $6,000. I put horses in where they could win. They get the best care I can give them. I win races. It was no big secret. I also had one of the best drivers there. Ronnie Wrenn Jr. drove about 85% of my horses.
HLINK: It seems like everybody is suspicious of what you do? Your horses are tested right away when you go to a new track.
DE: They must be because I do so well. I do my homework. I don't do anything crazy. I have a owner who will support and buy me better horses. I had some of the nicest horses on the grounds at Northfield Park. I was suppose to win races. I guarantee you that I get tested more than anyone else.
HLINK: Looking at your training record it shows a plethora of minor violations. Among the violations are failure to designate a responsible person in the paddock, failure to obey instructions, leaving the paddock early, falsification of license application, improper conduct and language. It points you out to not be a good person. You may have a temper problem.
DE: Most of those things happened four or five years ago. I did have a temper problem. I was a little bit cocky. I was training one of the fastest horses in the country in Jeremys Successor. I was a little to big for my britches. I took my lumps. That was four to five years ago. I changed a lot since then.
HLINK: Did you go to anger management classes? Do you have an any anger issues at the present time
DE: I was required to go to anger management. I don't remember which track. You have to remember I was running a fifty horse stable. With the issues I have been run through, I think I am a pretty good person.
HLINK: I spoke to two of the drivers you used the most to drive your horses in Tyler Buter and Ronnie Wrenn Jr. Tyler refused to go on record. Ronnie spoke highly of you and said your horses were always ready to win. Do you have a comment on them?
DE: That is what I shoot for, having my horses ready to win.
Ronnie Wrenn Jr. is one of the best young drivers in the country. In 2013 Wrenn tallied 714 winning drives, which ranked him as being the most winning driver in North America. His UDRS driving record was an outstanding 0.361. He was the leading driver at both the Northville and Northfield meets. Dean Eckley is on record with having stated that Wrenn drove over 85% of his horses. Ronnie went on record to talk about driving horses for Dean Eckley.
HLINK: How was it driving horses for Dean Eckley? Tell us a little about his preparation and ability in having horses ready to race.
RW: I think he is a great guy. I know him personally. I know he is going through a rough time. He had a positive last year at Colonial that was dropped, since then it has been an uphill battle for him. Your name is everything in this business. If people can knock you on something you did wrong, they will tend to dwell on the negative. He was doing really well for himself last year. Since the positive I haven't talked to him. He had to deal with the trouble in New York and now he has to get over this.
HLINK: He has been reinstated in New York and Virginia but can't find a track that will allow him to race.
RW: I understand it from the track's point of view. They have to protect their name. They are going to get a thousand phone calls of why they are allowing him to train there. I think he is a good trainer and he does a good job. He knows what it takes to win. It's going to take a while to get his name back in good standings. I think he is capable of doing that. He has done it before. The last positive is a misunderstanding. I enjoyed driving for him. His horses were live, trained up and ready to go. Hopefully things will work out for him.
HLINK: I guess you could say you are in limbo now and the tracks won't let you train at their tracks.
DE: Some of the tracks in Ohio won't even take my former owner's horses because of the association with me. The general manger and racing secretary are making the decisions on who can race.This is wrong. They just listen to the rumors and half truths about people and not let them race. Look at what they just did to Brian Sears. It is wrong.
HLINK: Do you own any horses right now?
DE: I own a two-year-old filly and have a couple of two-year-olds I am training. Other then that I am not doing a lot.
HLINK: Where are those horses going to race.
DE: I don't know.
HLINK: You are looking for a place to put your tack down and everyone is telling you start someplace else first?
DE: Everybody is giving me the runaround to race someplace first. I went up to Maine and they listened to my story and let me race. It is to far from home. I just had a baby daughter. I don't want to be that far from home.
HLINK: How are you making a living now?
DE: I have four training bills. I had a good year training last year. It is what it is.
HLINK: Do you have any owners who would support you right now?
DE: Absolutely. I could put a stable together real quickly. I just need an opportunity, that is all I ask. There are people racing right now with a record a lot worse than mine. I just need for people to look at the truth.
HLINK: What is your next move to get back training?
DE: I don't have one. I need to first get the record corrected at the USTA. They still have the Virginia positive on my record. I will then try to get my license back in a few places and make some calls.
Dean Eckley is looking for a place to train again. Does his past record justify him getting back into big time racing? As Ronnie Wrenn Jr. stated "Your reputation in this business is everything". Does he deserve another chance?
These are the problems facing Dean Eckley's future. Only time will tell if he can get back into racing and be successfull again.
by Brian McEvoy, for Harnesslink.com