Rich Strike’s owner: Why has there been no Shoegate hearing?

Rich Strike’s owner: Why has there been no Shoegate hearing?
Photo: Matt Wooley / Eclipse Sportswire

More than three months after the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority agreed to consider his appeal of last fall’s Grade 2 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, Rich Strike’s owner said he still is waiting for a final answer.

In short, Rick Dawson is growing weary of waiting for the other shoe to fall.

“After all this time, and despite the overwhelming evidence provided to HISA of the violation, and notwithstanding HISA’s agreement to reconsider its premature ruling, HISA has failed to even rule on the Rich Strike team’s request for a re-hearing,” Dawson said in a timeline written as an open legal document to HISA.

Dawson and trainer Eric Reed have contended Hot Rod Charlie wore toe grabs in his narrow victory over their 80-1 Kentucky Derby winner in the Oct. 1 running of the Lukas Classic. They came to this conclusion three days later after seeing magnified images taken by photojournalists. Toe grabs on front shoes are against HISA and Kentucky Horse Racing Commission rules.

“It has been nearly four months since the Lukas Classic was run, nearly four months since KHRC (and) HISA officials were provided photographic evidence of Hot Rod Charlie’s violation of the toe-grab rule, and more than 3 1/2 months since KHRC (and) HISA officials saw the actual physical evidence of this violation,” Dawson wrote in a timeline last week.

A HISA spokesperson did not respond to Horse Racing Nation’s text and email requests Wednesday for comment.

Dawson, who has been represented in the Shoegate case by Kentucky attorney Barry Hunter, admitted his team reached out to Hot Rod Charlie’s former trainer Doug O’Neill on Jan. 9 to try to get confirmation that HISA had been in communication with him.

“We never received notice that HISA contacted HRC’s connections,” Dawson wrote in an email to HRN. “So we contacted Doug ourselves and asked him to pass the complaint to the owners of HRC. Doug has yet to respond.”

In his written timeline, Dawson said his team actually got to lay its hands on the shoes Dec. 9 after they had been collected by KHRC stewards in October.

“This examination revealed the existence of toe-grab protrusions of approximately four millimeters, half steel and half aluminum, at the toe of the shoe,” Dawson said. “Thus the KHRC stewards as well as HISA officials were aware that Hot Rod Charlie was wearing horseshoes with toe grabs in violation of the HISA rule.”

The only public comment O’Neill made about this case came Oct. 4, the day the incriminating photos came to light.

“I swear on a stack of Bibles that none of the horses in our stable wears toe grabs and have not for years,” O’Neill wrote on social media. “My only thought is that (photographic evidence) is a result of a weird reflection or it’s been altered.”

In his email to HRN, Dawson went so far as to ask himself why HISA had not taken any further action since it agreed to consider his request for a hearing.

“Not sure if they are protecting one or more of their own for obvious inaccurate and, in my opinion, a poorly conducted investigation and false reporting by (the) KHRC,” he said. “Or is HISA pushing us to sue in civil court seeking a ruling, thereby allowing someone else to handle (the appeal?)”

After looking at the photos, inspecting and collecting Hot Rod Charlie’s shoes and interviewing the trainers and O’Neill’s farrier Dean Balut, KHRC stewards decided there was no violation of the rules. Their conclusion was endorsed by HISA on Oct. 18. Rich Strike’s team responded with a written appeal to HISA on Oct. 26. Five days later a HISA lawyer said the request would be considered.

There has been no public reporting of any movement since. Dawson said there has been “zero action.”

“If we as horse owners can expect little or no action by HISA, then why wait for them to do little if anything?” Dawson said. “For myself and I suspect other owners, in the future I will consider filing (a) complaint with HISA (and the) local horse-racing commission simultaneously with the appropriate court.”

Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable and Strauss Bros Racing, Hot Rod Charlie was retired after finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Now 5, he stands at Shadai Stallion Station in Japan for a fee of $15,554.

After his fourth-place result in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and a last-place disappointment in the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs, Rich Strike was given a 45-day break at Hill ’n’ Dale at Xalapa farm in Paris, Ky. After returning to Reed’s Mercury Equine Center in Lexington, Ky., the now 4-year-old colt has had two breezes in preparation for a possible start in the Dubai World Cup (G1) on March 25.

HISA has been under siege in federal lawsuits, most recently losing its call Tuesday to have its constitutionality restored by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. While its ability to do business in Louisiana, Texas and West Virginia has been inhibited, HISA still has power in Kentucky.

According to its website, HISA has made 638 rulings on racing violations nationwide, including 58 in Kentucky, since its enforcement power began July 1. All the Kentucky cases involved crop use by jockeys as did all but nine in other states. Five of those nine were for equipment infractions, two for shockwave violations, one for a prohibited device or item and one labeled as “other.”

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