Shoegate: Hot Rod Charlie gets favorable ruling in Lukas Classic

Shoegate: Hot Rod Charlie gets favorable ruling in Lukas Classic
Photo: Jennie Doyle / Eclipse Sportswire

Saying “the horseshoes worn by Hot Rod Charlie during the 2022 Lukas Classic did not violate” a rule against toe grabs, a Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority attorney recommended no change in the results of the controversial Oct. 1 race at Churchill Downs.

Bryan Beauman, a lawyer based in Lexington, Ky., wrote that in a letter Wednesday to Charles Scheeler, who chairs the HISA board. The letter also was sent to connections of Hot Rod Charlie, who won the Grade 2 race, and Rich Strike, the 80-1 Kentucky Derby winner who lost the Lukas Classic by a head.

FLASHBACK: Hot Rod Charlie wins Lukas Classic.

“We find no grounds to believe the stewards’ conclusion was clearly erroneous or unsupported by the evidence,” Beauman said in the letter, which was obtained by Horse Racing Nation. “We recommend that the (HISA) board take no further action in this matter.”

“The latest investigation gave little if any attention and/or credibility to the hundreds of race-day photos our team provided from numerous photographers that clearly show (a) toe-grab on (Hot Rod Charlie)’s shoes,” Rich Strike’s owner Rick Dawson wrote in a text message to HRN. Stopping short of mentioning a possible lawsuit, Dawson said, “Our team will huddle up and make a plan should HISA (directors) not provide us any relief when they meet later this month.”

Asked if he had any comment about the letter, Hot Rod Charlie’s former trainer Doug O’Neill told HRN’s Carolyn Greer, “No. The report says it all.” O’Neill already had denied ever using illegal shoes on any of his horses.

Dawson and Rich Strike’s trainer Eric Reed believed enlarged photos taken at the end of the Lukas Classic revealed toe grabs on the front shoes worn by Hot Rod Charlie. Those extensions that act like cleats are illegal under HISA and state racing rules.

Following an in-person inspection and after conducting interviews with connections and the farrier who shod Hot Rod Charlie, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards decided in October there had been no violation. After that conclusion was endorsed by HISA, Dawson filed a formal appeal and was told Oct. 31 by a HISA lawyer that it would be considered.

Beauman’s letter to Scheeler said the scope of HISA’s review included an examination of the Equibase chart, NBC Sports video posted on YouTube, photographs taken at trackside by Jamie Newell, Jenny Doyle and Matt Wooley and the material gathered by KHRC stewards in their initial investigation the week after the race.

“HISA will have no further comment on this matter until the board of directors acts upon the recommendation during a regularly scheduled meeting later this month,” a spokesperson for the authority said in an email sent to racing media Wednesday morning.

“It’s unclear to me if experienced horsemen participated in this latest investigation,” Dawson said, “or just HISA’s law firm. As I have stated previously, the race-day photos have been viewed by a large number of horsemen, and all without exception stated ‘those are toe grabs,’ which (are) … ruled illegal and prohibited due to increased chances for injury to the horse.”

Hot Rod Charlie, who has been retired to a stallion farm in Japan, earned $305,520 for the Lukas Classic victory. Rich Strike got $99,200 for coming in second, although his jockey Sonny León was suspended by the KHRC for 15 racing days for leaning hard into Hot Rod Charlie’s rider Tyler Gaffalione. Since Hot Rod Charlie finished first, stewards did not conduct an immediate, post-race inquiry.

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