Shoegate: Rich Strike owner sues Hot Rod Charlie connections

Shoegate: Rich Strike owner sues Hot Rod Charlie connections
Photo: Kentucky Horse Racing Commission / Eclipse Sportswire

After his toe-grab claim from last year’s Grade 2 Lukas Classic was dismissed by state and federal racing authorities, Rich Strike’s owner Rick Dawson filed a lawsuit Friday seeking at least $206,320 in purse money from the connections of Hot Rod Charlie.

The civil case was filed in Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville, Ky., against Hot Rod Charlie's owners Gainesway Thoroughbreds, Greg Helm’s Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing and Strauss Brothers Racing as well as trainer Doug O’Neill.

“I want to try to do my part in any way I can to clean the sport up,” Dawson told Horse Racing Nation on Friday. “When I’m aware of an issue, it’s all of our responsibilities to see those through.”

Dawson said he was not interested in suing the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission or the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, the two regulatory groups that rejected his claims.

Flashback: Hot Rod Charlie is cleared by HISA.

“In order to sue, you have to show that you’ve been damaged,” Dawson said. “Where we’ve been damaged would obviously be the differences in purse money and the winning of a Grade 2, which could affect the value of the horse.”

Rich Strike, who famously won the 2022 Kentucky Derby at odds of 80-1, finished second in the Oct. 1 running of the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, losing by a head to Hot Rod Charlie. Magnified photographs from the race purportedly showing toe grabs on Hot Rod Charlie’s front shoes made the rounds three days later, and they were the catalyst for investigations by the KHRC and HISA.

“Hot Rod Charlie plainly ran in violation of HISA rule 2276 at the Lukas Classic race, and the horse should have been disqualified,” Dawson said in the lawsuit filed on his behalf by Lexington, Ky., attorneys Barry Hunter and Ben Carter. “The photographic evidence from the race makes that conclusion abundantly clear. Moreover, an explanation of the shoes removed from the horse after the race revealing toe-grab protrusions of approximately four millimeters on each shoe plainly confirms that conclusion.”

After hearing appeals from Dawson, the KHRC and HISA dismissed his claims, both saying they found no violation of the rules.

“The HISA board voted unanimously to accept the enforcement team’s recommendation,” a news release from the authority said about a Feb. 22 meeting. “No further action will be taken.”

Reintroducing photos and forensic analysis that his team submitted to HISA, Dawson maintained in the new lawsuit that “Hot Rod Charlie illegally trained and raced with toe grabs.”

In October, Hot Rod Charlie’s farrier Dean Balut told investigators he ground down the original toe grabs before the Lukas Classic. He said a shortage of shoes without the extensions forced him to improvise. KHRC and HISA said on that basis, nothing illegal had been done.

Dawson begged to differ, saying so again in his lawsuit.

“Of course, whatever the explanation for how or why the toe grabs appeared on the shoes of Hot Rod Charlie on the day of the Lukas Classic race,” the suit said, “the horse still ran in violation of HISA rule 2276.”

Dawson’s lawsuit said he and his Red TR-Racing business “suffered damages including but not limited to the difference between $305,520 for winning and $99,200 for finishing second, the value of the (race) trophy and the impact of Rich Strike’s syndicate value.”

O’Neill did not respond to a Horse Racing Nation text message Friday to get his response to the lawsuit.

Reacting last month when a HISA attorney issued a letter that recommended the rejection of the toe-grab claims, O’Neill said, “The report says it all.” In October he said he would “swear on a stack of Bibles” that he never used illegal shoes on his horses.

Hot Rod Charlie was retired to a stud farm last fall in Japan. Rich Strike, who suffered a minor hoof injury this month, was being readied by trainer Eric Reed for his 4-year-old debut. Dawson said he would lean toward entry into the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) on April 22.

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