Vaccarezza Pulls Little Mike From Turf Classic Over Testing Dispute - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Vaccarezza Pulls Little Mike From Turf Classic Over Testing Dispute

Multiple Grade 1 winner Little Mike will not run in Saturday's G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs. Carlo Vaccarezza, who bred  Little Mike and took over his training from Dale Romans after the now 7-year-old gelding ran ninth in Hong Kong in December, is upset with officials from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Churchill Downs over what he calls “unreasonable search and seizure.”

Vaccarezza, who was only recently licensed in Kentucky after being denied a license for years in New York, said officials drew blood from Little Mike without his knowledge after being shipped to Churchill Downs. The sample was collected as part of the out-of-competition testing done on stakes horses competing during Kentucky Derby week.

The KHRC's equine medical director, Mary Scollay, told the Paulick Report Vaccarezza was contacted by telephone prior to the collection of a blood sample and gave his approval.

Little Mike races in the name of Vaccarezza's wife, Priscilla. He won the 2012 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic along with the G1 Arlington Million and G1 Breeders' Cup Turf, and in 2013 captured the G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. He has not raced since competing in Hong Kong.

Following is the full statement from Carlo Vaccarezza:

Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure is a Fourth Amendment protection in the U.S. Constitution . . . unless you've got horses stabled at Churchill Downs–the same location at which the 140th Kentucky Derby will be run this first Saturday in May.

Last week, allegedly in response to prodding from a neighboring rival stable, without my knowledge, physical presence or consent, against the strong protestations of my employees, and without advance notice, or security or law enforcement personnel present, Churchill Downs officials allowed Kentucky Racing Commission representatives to withdraw blood from my Breeders' Cup Champion Thoroughbred horse, Little Mike, who has been housed on the grounds in anticipation of running in this weekend's Woodford Reserve Cup on Derby Day.  Who ordered the blood to be taken?  Who actually drew the blood?  How was it transported and to where?  Who is responsible for storing and evaluating it?  Regardless of the answers to these questions, will results of the test ever be revealed, and to whom, and when?

This Draconian violation of my property and integrity is why I have taken the extraordinary step of removing my valuable investment from Churchill Downs this morning, not only because I feared for the safety of my animal, but in protest of this Draconian action and similar injustices heaped on horsemen in general at Churchill Downs' properties across the country such as Fair Grounds and Calder.

In the national uproar over race-day medication, is this where we are headed?  Racing officials whose hands are tied amid pre-ordained state laws and regulations?  A racing commission operating as a police state, facilitated by track management?  According to both Churchill Downs and Florida stewards, this has been a new wrinkle in pettiness–something they've never seen happen or heard of before.   In fact, Little Mike had yet to be even entered in the Woodford Reserve.  So aside from what was characterized to me as a “spot check,” why was his blood even taken or tested in the first place?

Just this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought by Florida's Governor seeking the mandatory drug testing of state workers.  Even in that scenario, advance notice would be given.  But notwithstanding, justices rightly upheld lower courts' rulings that Florida's new law violated Constitutional civil rights.

Whether the search and seizure of Little Mike's blood this week was precipitated by petty rivalries and interpersonal jealousy, or just plain overreach and faulty management in the zeal to clamp down on actual drug offenders, maybe it's time to take a step back from horse racing's current state of drug-driven rhetoric and think about where we're really headed in the race-day medication debate.

As its flagship Kentucky Derby Day draws national attention closer to what would otherwise be the glory of Thoroughbred horse racing, Churchill Downs executives are scheduled to appear before the Louisiana Racing Commission this morning to defend the company's Fair Grounds racing license after its neglect and abuse of horsemen has come to the attention of the state Legislature.  It would seem they are banking on complicit silence from horsemen for the sake of our sport's greatest day.

Meanwhile, billionaires and beautiful people will flock to Louisville to pack the newly renovated “Mansion” within Churchill Downs this weekend for the 140th Kentucky Derby.  Onlookers may find the scene weirdly dichotomous, with the trumped-up “Run for the Roses” belying the evil, duplicitous corporate greed that's really hiding behind the public company's ever-thinning horse racing veneer.

This week during its quarterly earnings conference call, Churchill Downs trumpeted not only its live horse racing profit at Calder, but a million-dollar overall gain after all the accounting slight-of-hand was said and done.  One million dollars.  Almost to the dime, that's exactly the amount extracted by Churchill Downs for “rent” over the past two years from the impoverished grooms and hot walkers who live two or more in tiny, airless rooms with no running water above Calder's decaying stables.  Five dollars a day.  To someone who makes minimum wage–that's a whole lot of minimum wage blood, sweat and tears sacrificed for the sake of a Wall Street Fat Cat report.   So as the swells party this weekend in Louisville, Florida's summer heat will sear into the cell-like rows of dormitory style rooms in South Florida housing unseen legions of backstretch workers for whom $5 a day often means the difference between food, medicine or nothing at all.

In this day and age of Internet immediacy, there are few secrets left.  People talk.  So it's no mystery in the horse racing industry how similar decay and neglect has seeped throughout Churchill Downs' other properties across the country.  Thus hijacked by Churchill's underhanded intimidation tactics, horsemen are finding themselves backed against the wall in Churchill's high-stakes game of “gotcha.”  Certainly, we could go elsewhere.  But Churchill's market share is making that increasingly more difficult.

As one horseman with the courage and capacity to stand up for myself and my colleagues, I contend that neither Churchill Downs or horse racing can claim a “greatest day” unless we all play by the rules–which include the U.S. Constitution, if not basic civil and human rights.

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