Breeders' Cup whodunit focuses on state trainer

Dickinson is linked to pair who harassed 2 trainers in Classic

November 23, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Maryland trainer Michael Dickinson has emerged as the central character in a cloak-and-dagger incident involving private investigators looking for signs that horses were being given performance-enhancing drugs at the Breeders' Cup.

The agency that oversees security at the nation's racetracks has conducted an inquiry into the presence and motives of two men who were conducting surveillance at the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. The event, racing's biggest day, attracts top horses from around the world competing in eight stakes races with $13 million in purses.

The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau issued a finding Friday that the two men had gained access to racetrack stable areas at Gulfstream Park with passes issued to Dickinson. The bureau said it had found the men's role was to observe whether horses received illegal pre-race medication.

The bureau did not say what the men observed but said its own security personnel reported no drug irregularities. "No improper treatments of horses entered to race on Nov. 6 were in fact seen throughout the afternoon by track investigators assigned to the stable area," said the statement.

The bureau became involved after James Bond, trainer of Behrens, favorite in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, complained to security at Gulfstream Park that a man in a car had tried to run Behrens' van off a toll road en route to Gulfstream Park.

With Bond riding in the cab, the large van was transporting Behrens and Val's Prince, another Bond Breeders' Cup entrant, from their training center 90 miles north of the racetrack.

"This guy tried to kill us," Bond said he told security personnel after arriving at Gulfstream Park.

Track security apprehended the man, who had followed Bond to Gulfstream, and another man with a camera who had been observing horses outside the barn of Elliott Walden, trainer of Ecton Park, another entrant in the Classic. The men were escorted off the grounds, interrogated and their passes confiscated.

Dickinson, who owns Tapeta Farm near North East in Cecil County, trained Supreme Sound in the Classic. A 126-1 long shot, Supreme Sound finished last.

Dickinson declined to say whether he hired the investigators. "I've done absolutely nothing wrong," he said.

He pointed out that the bureau's statement said merely that the investigators gained access to the stable areas with passes issued to him, not that they had been hired by him. "We don't comment on wild rumors," he said.

Yesterday, a spokesman at the bureau said no one would be available to discuss the statement until next week.

The trainers targeted for surveillance said yesterday that they were puzzled to learn about Dickinson's apparent involvement. "I was shocked," Bond said. "I can't tell you how shocked I was."

Walden said: "I don't know what to think. I don't know if Michael thought Jim Bond or myself or some other trainer were trying to do something illegal."

Walden said he had assumed the man lurking outside his barn at Gulfstream Park with a camera was employed by track security.

Bond went on to express anger over the confrontations with the other man on the toll road, though he didn't think it affected his horses' performance.

"This guy tried to run our van off the road two or three times," Bond said. "It was a very harrowing experience."

Bond gave this account of the encounters:

He first noticed the man hanging around his barn at Payson Park, the tranquil training center in Indiantown, Fla., about 7 o'clock the morning of the Breeders' Cup. When Bond's employees led his two Breeders' Cup horses onto a van about 11 a.m., the man drove his car next to the loading dock.

"He was only 20 or 30 feet from me," Bond said. "He stared right at me. It was a very uneasy feeling."

The general manager of the park had also noticed the man, spoken to him and then called the Florida Highway Patrol. When the van and a backup van -- in case of breakdown -- left the training center, a patrol car greeted them. But the man was nowhere to be seen, so the patrol car departed.

However, about 20 miles down Florida's Turnpike the man in his car caught up to the vans. "Then the cat and mouse started," Bond said.

The car swerved in front of the van two or three times, causing the driver to slam on the brakes, Bond said. Once, when the vans pulled to the side of the road, the car came backing at them so fast "I was afraid the guy was going to ram the front of the trailer," Bond said.

By the time the vans arrived at Gulfstream Park, about 1: 30, Bond was shaken up and perplexed.

Bond said he had no idea why anyone would suspect him of using illegal drugs to improve his horses' performance. He said his success with Behrens and Val's Prince had come from "horsemanship and hard work."

Bond and Walden both denied having any intentions of giving their horses illegal substances. "Of course not," Walden said. "I follow the rules in every state I go to."

After the daylong surveillance, Walden's Ecton Park finished 12th of 14 in the Classic. His odds were 9-1. Walden's other Breeders' Cup entrant, Pleasant Temper at 19-1, finished eighth of 14 in the Filly and Mare Turf.

Bond's Val's Prince, the 5-1 second choice in the Turf, finished 11th of 14 after two straight Grade I victories in New York. And Behrens, the 2-1 favorite in the Classic, finished seventh of 14, the first time all year he had not finished first or second.

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