Federal agency formally clears Hot Rod Charlie in Shoegate

Federal agency formally clears Hot Rod Charlie in Shoegate
Photo: Matt Wooley / Eclipse Sportswire

Endorsing what its enforcement team recommended, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority board formally dismissed the claim that Hot Rod Charlie had illegal toe grabs on his front shoes Oct. 1 when he won the Grade 2 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, a HISA spokesperson said in a written statement Saturday.

“During its regularly scheduled meeting (Wednesday), the HISA board of directors discussed the HISA enforcement team’s recommendation concerning Hot Rod Charlie’s participation in the Lukas Classic,” the statement said. “The HISA board voted unanimously to accept the enforcement team’s recommendation. No further action will be taken.”

Flashback: Rich Strike owner says he is ‘not going away.’

The original Shoegate charge was brought by Rich Strike’s owner Rick Dawson, who said Saturday he would consider filing a lawsuit.

“We will review our options,” Dawson told Horse Racing Nation in a text-message response. “Should we move forward, it will be in court, where we hope a jury will look at all the evidence with an open mind and see what many people have seen, except Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and HISA officials, that the shoes worn by Hot Rod Charlie were not in compliance with the rules.”

Rich Strike, who was the 80-1 winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby, finished second in the Lukas Classic, losing by a head to Hot Rod Charlie. Enlarged photographs emerged the following week that appeared to show Hot Rod Charlie had toe grabs on his front shoes.

“In the days following the race,” HISA’s ruling said, “the interests of Rich Strike closely observed the media’s coverage of the race, including photographs of the horses’ approach to the finish wire, which led to allegations that Hot Rod Charlie’s shoes were equipped with toe grabs.”

That was followed by 143 pages of letters, statements, legal briefs and photographs. They were led by a nine-page letter dated Feb. 8 from Bryan Beauman, the HISA attorney who was part of the investigative team.

“The evidence in the record supports the initial investigators’ conclusion that Hot Rod Charlie’s shoes complied with rule 2276, and therefore we do not believe that grounds exist to find that the investigators’ determination was clearly erroneous.”

Beauman said the HISA board might want to clarify a fine point in that rule prohibiting “traction devices” such as toe grabs.

“A shoe with a full rim height of two millimeters or less is not considered a traction device,” Beauman wrote. “The rule provides no further definition of what is not a traction device and does not specify how stewards should interpret the rule when a shoe that was originally equipped with a toe grab has had the toe grab removed.”

Hot Rod Charlie’s farrier Dean Balut said the original toe grabs were ground down to what ultimately was determined by Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards and HISA investigators to be legal. Balut said a shortage of shoes without toe grabs forced him to improvise.

The KHRC stewards decided in October there was no violation of the toe-grab rule, and their finding was endorsed within days by HISA. That led to Dawson’s formal appeal in late October. It was answered Feb. 8 with the HISA enforcement team’s declaration that echoed the original conclusion last fall.

The enforcement team’s decision still required ratification from the HISA board, which came Wednesday.

“I feel it’s important that owners, trainers and others that love our sport do their part to make sure the rules are followed and races are fair to all,” Dawson said Saturday. “If the rules are meant to be broken, even if only by a little bit, then pushing the rules into the gray area and beyond will continue. There is little to no consequence for breaking the rules (other than) a few days off and a meaningless fine.”

Hot Rod Charlie was retired to a stud farm in Japan. Rich Strike is being readied by trainer Eric Reed for his 4-year-old debut next month in the Dubai World Cup (G1).

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