Passionate New York harness racing blogger and Harnesslink correspondent, Allan Schott believes Lou Pena's win in the New York Supreme Court on Wednesday can be best described as a temporary victory as the decision was not made on the merits of the case, but on technical issues.
“That being said, the victory is an important victory not only for Lou Pena, but all horsemen in New York. As you recall, Pena's license was revoked for allegedly violating New York medication rules as determined thanks to an unusual cooperation between the NJRC and the then New York State Racing and Wagering Board (NYSRWB) - now the New York Gaming Commission (NYGC) - where the veterinarian's records were reviewed; no drug positives were discovered.
“Pena challenged the revocation and a hearing was held in late August. Since then, Pena has been waiting for a decision which many expected to go against him in round one, one of many rounds to come,” Schott told Harnesslink.
Schott said New York rules required a decision in any appeal to be given within 30 days of the hearing date.
“As of today, no decision has been released, a clear violation of the rules. With six months having passed without a decision rendered, the judge ruled the NYGC has taken too long in making a decision and has ordered Pena's license restored for the time being.
“While the NYGC can decide to appeal the judge's decision, my suspicion is they won't; they will allow Pena to train horses until a decision on Pena's appeal is released at which point Pena may once again find his license revoked. With the judge planning to hold another hearing on March 15, the NYGC may find themselves pressed to issue the hearing officer's report before then,” Schott said.
Schott thought that while Pena's victory may be temporary, it is an important victory for all horsemen in the State of New York.
“No licensee should find themselves in limbo for so long. Granted, the Pena case is complicated in the fact there were so many alleged violations, but the fact remains a licensee is entitled to a ruling within 30 days.
“Wisely, Pena's attorney gave the Commission extra time, but six months of being in limbo is grossly unfair and an abuse of the Commission's power. Every licensee, regardless of their status, is entitled to a speedy disposition of their case and this is the message the New York Supreme Court judge made clear yesterday.
"Even if Pena eventually loses his license, a precedent has been set for every horseman to have their cases disposed of quickly by the NYGC.”
So what does Wednesday's decision mean for Pena?
“As previously mentioned, this is a temporary victory and if the NYGC releases the decision of the hearing officer, Pena may find himself on the outside looking in once again. In the meanwhile Pena has an impediment to resuming his career on the East Coast. While I am sure many of his old patrons will be happy to return to Pena, whether they will return knowing any day he may have his license revoked again, remains to be seen.
“Then there is a question as to where he may be welcomed on the East coast to race. Clearly, the three Gural-operated tracks will continue to exclude Pena as will Freehold Raceway. The question is what will Yonkers Raceway and Harrah's Philadelphia decide to do?” Schott queried.
He said that based on reporting, it may be that Pena feels he may be done on the East Coast; at least for the foreseeable future.
“Reports indicated that and if once again licensed, train horses at Cal Expo as well as considering training thoroughbreds. Being other individuals who have run into regulatory problems on the East coast have been licensed in California, there is no reason to suspect California won't license Pena, especially if he applies before New York finally releases its decision.”
But lost in the Pena news, Schott said the Meadowlands had reached an agreement with Showplace Farms (and Golden Shoe in New York) with regards to Brice Cote investigating cases at the training facilities.
“Cote will only investigate trainers that have signed releases (via the racing application), Cote has access to the training facilities 24 hours a day but if outside the 9-5 window, must text management as to when he arrives and leaves the training center, and the Meadowlands must sign a waiver of responsibility if Cote or any other Meadowlands investigator is injured on the grounds of the training center.
“This is fair agreement which protects all interests, including those who choose or are unable to race at the Meadowlands.
Reasonableness won out,” Schott summarised.
Footnote: When Harnesslink contacted prominent racetrack owner Jeff Gural if Pena would be permitted to race at his tracks. His reply was blunt without giving any reason:
When asked why not Gural proclaimed:
“Are you serious? He was banned before he lost his New York licence. So do we ask a vet to explain what he was accused of in New York? I try my best to be fair.”
He would not elaborate further.
By Duane RANGER (editor) and Allan SCHOTT