Program Trainers – Fact or Fiction?

I read the account in the Paulick Report earlier this month about the decision of Florida regulators to deny Ralph Zadie’s request to renew his trainer’s license. The denial is evidently based on a history of repeated drug infractions.

What stood out to me was not the denial itself, but the fact that the trainer taking over the stable had never been licensed as a trainer before. The new trainer is Georgina Baxter.

In his August 6, 2018, article, Ray Paulick writes, “Baxter is a former exercise rider whose first start as a licensed trainer came on July 5, when she saddled three former Ralph Ziadie horses, including her first winner, Starship Wildcat.”

Mr. Ziadie, a fixture on the Florida racing circuit, ran his last horse as trainer on June 30, 2018. According to Equibase data, during the first six months of 2018 he earned $642,956 in purse, winning 24 races from 93 starts. From July 5 through August 19, Ms. Baxter has earned $174,440 in purses, winning six races from 30 starts.

I do not know the details of any due diligence performed by Florida regulators on the transfer of horses from Mr. Ziadie to Ms. Baxter. Therefore, I’ll refrain for critiquing the merits of this particular transfer.

This is a good time, however, to address the subject of trainer transfers in general. Specifically, I’ll walk through some of the steps I believe should be taken to enforce a suspension and protect the betting public.

From a regulatory perspective, whether a person is suspended or denied a license, the purpose and the process of evaluating the transfer of horses from one trainer to another is the same. The purpose is to ensure that while under suspension or after being denied a license, a trainer does not control, manage, influence, have any contact with, or benefit from horses they had previously trained. In this business, those who have such control or influence are referred to as program trainers.

The process

In 2007, Indiana became to first state to pass a rule that prohibited horse transfer to certain individuals who might serve as a proxy for the suspended trainer. Indiana’s rule is titled, Effect of suspension – Trainers, and reads as follows:

  • The horse(s) of a trainer suspended for more than fifteen (15) days in Indiana shall not be transferred to a spouse, member of the immediate family, assistant, employee, or household member of the trainer.
  • (b) The horse(s) of a trainer suspended in another jurisdiction, may, at the discretion of the executive director, judges, or stewards, be placed on the judge's/steward’s list and be ineligible to compete in Indiana if such horse(s) is trained by a licensee that is a spouse, member of the immediate family, business associate, assistant, employee, or household member of the suspended trainer.
  • (c) The executive director, judges, or stewards may require a horse(s) previously trained by a suspended trainer, a horse owned by a person employing a suspended trainer, and/or a horse owned by a person who employed the trainer at the time of suspension to be stabled on the grounds of the association.

In 2009, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) approved a model rule on horse transfers similar to Indiana’s, although its rule does not expressly prohibit transferring horses to a spouse, member of the immediate family, assistant, employee, or household member of the trainer.

Some may think that the Indiana rule, or even the RCI model rule, might be overly burdensome.

I disagree.

In fact, I believe that such a rule is only the starting point for considering the transfers of horses of suspended or ineligible trainers. Even if all of the provisions of the rule are met, there are several other issues that the stewards should consider in determining the merits of a transfer request. This is especially true for lengthy suspensions or in cases when a person cannot obtain a trainer’s license.

Asking the right questions

My experience in Indiana taught me that if you do not scrutinize certain elements of a transfer request, there is a distinct possibility that the former trainer will still be influencing his or her stable.

First and foremost, the horses of the suspended or ineligible trainer should be placed on the Steward’s List and be ineligible to race until such time as the transfer(s) is approved. Then, the owner of each affected horse should be contacted by the stewards or another commission employee. The owner should be informed of their trainer’s status and be told to contact the stewards when they have decided on a replacement trainer who is willing to train their horse(s). The owner should also be informed that their selection is subject to the approval of the stewards.

While I was in Indiana, we had situations when a recently suspended trainer would introduce to the stewards the person they had chosen as their replacement. On more than one occasion the newly appointed person had never spoken to the owners and did not know who the owners were, where they lived, or how to contact them. Of course, those trainers did not receive the stewards’ approval.

Having the suspended trainer inform the stewards who the new trainer will be is not appropriate. They are not the trainer’s horses anymore and it’s no longer that trainer’s business. Relying the the suspended trainer is more likely to lead to a program trainer situation. The suspended or ineligible trainer might not even have told their owners of their status or might have portrayed their situation inaccurately.

Depending on the circumstances, other inquiries should be made by the stewards.

It is important that stewards scrutinize any business relationship between the old trainer and the new trainer. This is especially relevant when the person assuming the trainer responsibilities will be training for the first time or has had very modest success and is now taking over a larger, successful operation. These circumstances are often foretelling of prospective program training.

Where will the horses train? Even if they are stabled on the grounds — is the new trainer using any equipment or feed of the prior trainer? If so, was it paid for? How much? Where is the proof of payment?

The answers to these and other questions are not necessarily disqualifying — but they might be.

Truth or rumor

How many times have you heard that a suspended or ineligible trainer is still calling the shots for his old outfit?

Of course, sometimes these rumors are untrue. But often times they’re accurate.

In some states regulators are diligent — in others they are not.

Just another example of the lack of uniformity in our sport.

Comments (3) -

  • The more burdensome the suspension the less likely to have trainers voluntarily accept one which leads to long protracted expensive legal battles some of which impact or are brought by innocent owners.
  • That's true Bill. It shouldn't make much of a difference though. Legal battles are just part of being a regulator. Regulators should not roll over and play dead because someone threatens a lawsuit.
  • I agree wholeheartedly.  There has to be total transparency across the board.  In the age of fantasy football and esports and all the other competition, horse racing needs to appear to be above board to remain
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