NEW YORK — New York's top racetracks are off limits to trainer Jeff Mullins for six months.
The New York Racing Association barred the trainer from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga on Friday for violating its barn rules by giving one of his horses an unknown substance and then providing conflicting information about it.
"Racing integrity is a top priority for the New York Racing Association at all times," Neil Getnick, a lawyer for the firm that represents the racing association's integrity counsel, said Friday. "Today's penalty reinforces NYRA's commitment to maintaining a level playing field for our owners, trainers and the public."
The penalty is particularly tough in that NYRA will not allow Mullins to transfer his horses to anyone else – a common practice among suspended trainers – to circumvent the ban. The ruling involves only New York's tracks, leaving Mullins free to run his horses elsewhere, including Santa Anita Park, where he plans to run a horse in next week's Breeders' Cup.
Mullins, who trains I Want Revenge, is based in California. His lawyer, Karen Murphy, was upset with the ruling, saying NYRA was on a "witch hunt."
"What NYRA has done is grossly irresponsible, wasteful, unnecessary and will for sure damage all of racing," Murphy said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It was a witch hunt from the start."
The violation occurred at Aqueduct on April 4. Mullins was caught giving what he called a cough remedy to Gato Go Win with a dose syringe in the track's security barn. No medications are allowed in the barn except for an anti-bleeding drug that must be administered by a state veterinarian.
Gato Go Win was scratched from the race by the stewards. Later that day, Mullins won the Wood Memorial with I Want Revenge, who became the Derby favorite until he was scratched the morning of the May 2 race with an injury.
On April 19, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board suspended Mullins for seven days and fined him $2,500 for the infraction. Mullins maintained that he did not break any rules, but accepted the punishment.
The case should have ended then, Murphy said.
"A state investigation found nothing forbidden, concluded it was a minor infraction and issued a short suspension and a fine," Murphy said. "For NYRA to do anything further is unprecedented and has resulted in a decision that will damage every player in the industry."
In determining the penalty, Getnick said NYRA conducted a review of the incident as well as written reports from Mullins.
"His testimony and (offered) evidence conflicted with testimony of other witnesses, including one presented by him," Getnick said.
According to NYRA, Mullins at first denied to NYRA security that he had brought the dose syringe into the security barn, and later admitted he had. NYRA also said Mullins administered a liquid substance he identified as cough medicine to the horse.
"The events leading up to the imposition of today's penalties demonstrates NYRA's twin commitments to racing integrity and due process," said Steven Duncker, chairman of the NYRA Board of Directors. "NYRA got it right on the race day and thereafter."
Murphy said NYRA has made a "wrongheaded decision.
"To even suggest or to include the use of 'due process' is laughable," she said. "It was secret. Neither Jeff nor counsel were given time to review the transcripts."