Potential Law Suit Over Eight Belles?

Several people have asked me if I thought there would be  litigation over the death of Eight Belles after her second place finish at the 2008 Kentucky Derby on May 3.  Although animal rights activists staged a protest at the office of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority after the filly's death, I don't think there will be any litigation.  

The filly's death did not seem to be caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of any person or entity.

What did cause Eight Belles to break both front ankles?  According to the Wall Street Journal, Eight Belles' breakdown may have arisen from a variety of factors such as genetics, track surface, training methods, or medications.  Interestingly, Eight Belles and 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro were both descendants of Northern Dancer, a 1950s Thoroughbred whose racing career was cut short by leg injuries.

What is being done in the horse racing industry to prevent future breakdowns?  The Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, which first convened in 2006 after Barbaro's breakdown in the Preakness, met again in Lexington March 17-18, 2008.  The Summit promulgated its recommendations to improve racehorse welfare, and those recommendations addressed the following issues:

  1. Track Surfaces--including research and development of synthetic (Polytrack) surfaces
  2. Catastrophic injuries
  3. Racing Medication & Drug Testing Laboratories
  4. Education--focusing on training methods
  5. Regulation--to establish uniform regulation of medication and integrity issues
  6. Solutions for unwanted Thoroughbreds
  7. Promote genetic diversity of the Thoroughbred

If the Summit's recommendations are implemented, huge positive changes in the Thoroughbred racing industry could be realized.  However, according to Dan Metzger, the President of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, "miracles will not happen overnight."

 

Race Horse Trainers "Guilty Until Proven Innocent"

"Absolute insurer rules" and "trainer liability rules," common in horse racing and other equine sports, presume that trainers are responsible when their horses test positive for illegal substances.  In effect, the rules make trainers guilty unless proven innocent.

The effect of this presumption is to shift the burden of proof from the governing body to the trainer, who must prove innocence by showing  that he or she did not negligently administer a prohibited substance to the horse or did not negligently allow someone else to interfere with the horse.  These rules can result in the imposition of a penalty against the trainer and/or the horse's owner without actual proof of guilt.

Courts have uniformly upheld the absolute insurer rules, despite the fact that they appear to violate the due process of law.

The New York Court of Appeals (the court of last resort in New York), held that "...the trainer responsibility rule is a practical and effective means of promoting these State interests--both in deterring violations and in exercising sanctions.  The imposition of strict responsibility compels trainers to exercise a high degree of vigilance in guarding their horses and to report any illicit use of drugs, medications or other restricted substances by other individuals having access to their horses.  Additionally, the rebuttable presumption of responsibility facilitates the very difficult enforcement of the restrictions on the use of drugs and other substances in horse racing.  Indeed, it would be virtually impossible to regulate the administering of drugs to race horses if the trainers, the individuals primarily responsible for the care and condition of their horses, could not be held accountable for the illicit drugging of their horses or for the failure either to safeguard their horses against such drugging or to identify the person actually at fault.  It is not surprising, therefore, that trainer responsibility rules have been upheld almost without exception, in other jurisdictions."  Casse v. New York State Racing and Wagering Authority, 517 N.E.2d 1309, 1312 (N.Y. 1987).  See also Allen v. Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, 136 S.W.3d 54 (KY App 2004); Fogt v. Ohio State Racing Commission, 210 N.E.2d 730 (Ohio Ct. App. 1965); Sandstrom v. California Horse Racing Board, 189 P. 2d 17 (Cal. 1948).

For detailed discussion of the application of agencies and organizations in the horse industry, see The Complete Equine Legal & Business Handbook by Milton C. Toby.

Transfer of Jockey Club Papers after Lien Foreclosure Sale

When you sell a registered Thoroughbred in a valid foreclosure sale, you may or may not be able to obtain the Certificate of Foal Registration (i.e. the “Jockey Club papers”) from the original owner. In either case, pursuant to Rule 9 of the Jockey Club’s American Stud Book, you or the buyer must provide the Jockey Club with the following items in order to have the horses’ papers transferred to your name or the buyer’s name:

1) A check or money order payable to The Jockey Club covering the fee for Duplicate Certificate of Foal Registration;

2) A set of four color photographs of the horse (front, both sides, and rear views) clearly showing the color, and the markings (or lack of markings) on the head, legs and body;

3) A completed and signed Duplicate Certificate Form containing the written description of the markings on the horse, including the exact location of the head and neck cowlicks;

4) Proof of ownership of that specific horse (for example, a bill of sale or canceled check including the name or pedigree of the horse, date of sale and the name of the new owner);

5) An opinion from an attorney, indicating that the sale was conducted in accordance with the laws of the state; and

6) Any further evidence and assurances as The Jockey Club may require, such as genetic typing, parentage verification, or information regarding the circumstances and validity of the sale.

More information, including the American Stud Book rules discussed above, can be found on the Jockey Club’s website.

For instructions on transferring ownership of a registered Appaloosa, go to the APHA's website.