Evans’ Violation History A Factor In Stewards’ Ruling In Horse ID Mix-Up - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Evans’ Violation History A Factor In Stewards’ Ruling In Horse ID Mix-Up

Trainer Justin Evans doesn't seem to be drumming up much sympathy from racing officials in New Mexico.

Evans, who was handed a 15-day suspension and $5,000 fine for a case of mixed-up identities in the second race Aug. 14 at the Downs at Albuquerque, has had his application for a stay of that suspension denied by the New Mexico Racing Commission. The suspension is set to begin Aug. 26, and Evans' attorney has now filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in court. Evans is also appealing the stewards' ruling against him, which means the case now must go to a hearing officer. No date has been set for either proceeding.

Stewards and track management alike bristled at Evans' comments in the Blood-Horse on Aug. 24 in a story that was aggregated by the Paulick Report. Evans laid blame in part with the racetrack and the horse identifier for two horses – Extremely Wicked and Square Root – running in each other's saddle towels. The race was won by the horse winning the number nine saddle towel, which was supposed to be Extremely Wicked, while the number six horse, who was supposed to be Square Root, was third. Back at the test barn however, officials realized that Square Root was actually the winner and wearing the wrong number.

Both horses were disqualified, though the pari-mutuel results did not change.

Evans said earlier this week that both horses were “plain bays” but, in reality, presiding steward David Hooper said both horses have white markings. According to Jockey Club registration papers, which Evans had properly filed with the racetrack, Square Root has white marks on three of his four limbs, while Extremely Wicked has a small white spot on his forehead.

Both horses are 4-year-old geldings who Evans was saddling for the first time after acquiring them from trainers at Los Alamitos. Both horses had last run in maiden claiming races July 5 at Los Alamitos, with Extremely Wicked finishing second in race five and Square Root finishing fifth in race seven. Extremely Wicked had started there for Phil D'Amato, and Square Root for Doug O'Neill.

“It's clearly trainer responsibility,” said Hooper. “He needs to know the identity of his horses.”

Hooper said in a stewards' hearing regarding the incident, Evans also questioned whether the horses could have been mixed up between the finish line and the test barn. Don Cook, general manager of the Downs at Albuquerque, said that's not possible. The test barn escort is tasked with tagging whichever horses are to be tested (in this case, just the winner) and maintaining a visual on that horse until it arrives in the test barn. Hooper said the test barn tag is visible on the bridle of Square Root, who is wearing Extremely Wicked's gear, in the winner's circle photo.

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Evans' regulatory history did have some bearing on the penalty assigned by the stewards, according to Hooper. The public-facing Thoroughbred Rulings database shows 66 items under Evans' name since 2007, but Hooper said the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) database available to stewards shows 144 violations, including transfer of violations between jurisdictions and originals. In the case of the Thoroughbred Rulings database, not every item is a separate ruling, as they are notices to the licensee and therefore include acknowledgements of a fine being paid. The public-facing database also includes all types of rulings, including minor offenses like forgetting a set of silks, and does not include non-Thoroughbred rulings.

“This is the 61st year I've worked in this business,” said Hooper. “I've never seen a record like that. It was not in the ruling, but it was a very aggravating factor that someone has that much contempt for rules and regulations, in our consideration.”

Evans has been licensed as a trainer since 1999 and is a multiple stakes-winning conditioner. He was 48th in national trainer rankings by wins last year.

Hooper said the stewards have no suspicion that there was an ill intent in the incident, since both horses were the first and second betting choices in the morning line and at the time the race went off.

Of course, the mix-up should have been caught in the paddock by the horse identifier. Grooms are not permitted to wear smocks this racing season due to strict COVID-19 biosecurity protocols in place in New Mexico, which Evans believed contributed to the confusion. Cook said he pulled surveillance footage from the paddock ahead of the race in question and verified that the horse identifier did scan the microchips on both horses. Cook explained that the identifier is tasked with using a scanner to read the horse's microchip and match the number on the chip reader with the 15-digit number listed on his program for the horse. In this case, all but the final four digits were the same in both horses' microchips.

“I take full responsibility for that,” said Cook. “[The identifier] works for me.

“It's horrible. It makes everybody look bad, especially the racetrack.”

Hooper said the identifier did not familiarize himself with the horses' markings in advance of the race, although he had the opportunity to do so, since entries are taken a week out from race day. He confirmed the horse identifier was fined for his role in the mix-up.

Cook said the microchip readers in use at the Downs at Albuquerque meet the standards laid out by the New Mexico Racing Commission and are new. He also said that beginning with today's race program, there will be two people present in the paddock to read and verify microchip numbers. Previously, the horse identifier was the only official whose work was not subject to a check and balances process to avoid mistakes.

“Hopefully this will never, ever happen again.”

Cook said Evans' entry and stall status at the racetrack will depend in part on the outcome of his petition for stay of the suspension.

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