Gill is still permitted to stable, race horses at Pimlico, Laurel

Horse owner is being denied stalls on East Coast

Horse Racing

April 06, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Despite his banishment from Delaware Park, controversial horse owner Mike Gill will continue to be permitted to stable horses and race them at Pimlico and Laurel Park.

"He's done nothing wrong here," said Georganne Hale, Maryland Jockey Club racing secretary. "The man runs a lot of horses every day. He definitely helps us fill races."

Said Lou Raffetto, Hale's boss and MJC chief operating officer: "I've got no reason not to give him stalls. I personally think some of the racetracks are overreacting to the situation."

The situation is that Gill, the leading owner of thoroughbreds not only in Maryland but also the country, is being denied stalls up and down the East Coast, from Florida to New York, he said. At Delaware Park, he has been barred from even running his horses.

Reached by telephone at his home in New Hampshire, Gill said he believes Delaware Park officials are part of a region-wide effort to force him out of the horse business. He said he believes they have defamed his character, violated antitrust laws and engaged in unfair business practices.

"They're trying systematically to put me out of business," Gill said. "And it's possible they might."

Although Gill is the winningest owner in the United States, he is also perhaps the most controversial. He and one of his trainers, Mark Shuman, set a record this year for most wins at Gulfstream Park in South Florida.

But on Feb. 3, their horse, Casual Conflict, broke a leg during a race and was euthanized. One of Gill's veterinarians amputated the broken leg - for research, he said - and later returned it to officials. The veterinarian was kicked off the track, but an examination of the leg revealed no illegal drugs or improper treatments.

A second Gill veterinarian also was banned from Gulfstream after a search of his vehicle turned up improperly stored drugs. Shuman and Gill's primary trainer in Maryland, Jerry Robb, were fined and suspended last year for drug violations at Pimlico.

Gill, 47, also has a violation on his record. While training his own horses in New Hampshire in 1995, he was fined and suspended (for 45 days, he said) after one of his horses tested positive for clenbuterol, which helps horses breathe. Gill didn't pay the $1,000 fine, and his suspension was extended by three years.

It has been widely reported that Gill was banned for three years because of a drug violation. He was suspended for three years because he didn't pay the fine, and he said he didn't pay the fine because he wasn't planning to return as a trainer.

Because of that history and because Gill wins so many races with horses who suddenly run better under his care, bettors, track officials and other horsemen suspect Gill and his trainers of cheating by giving their horses illegal drugs that somehow escape detection. Gill said that is not true.

He said horsemen's complaints are a matter of jealously. Gill aggressively claims horses and then, he said, routinely has his veterinarians perform minor throat surgery to help breathing problems and administer legal medications that help horses run to their potential.

"That's why they move up," he said, meaning they run better for him. Also, he runs them back sometimes in lower divisions where they win against inferior competition.

"My vet bills this month were probably $250,000," he said. "I spent $8 million in February buying horses. I was the leading domestic buyer of horses in this country.

"And my big thank you for spending all that money in this business? They're trying to ruin me."

Gill was notified last week in a letter from Delaware Park that "you are not welcome on the grounds of Delaware Park, and Delaware Park will not accept entries for horses owned by you."

The letter was signed by William Fasy, chief operating officer at the track near Wilmington. Fasy did not give a reason for Gill's banishment in the March 27 letter. But he told The Sun: "I just don't need the PR hassle I've had the last two months."

Fasy said the two months referred to the time since the leg incident in Florida.

Gill said Delaware Park isn't the only track banning his horses. He said Calder, Philadelphia Park, Monmouth Park and the New York tracks have refused to give him stalls or said they would.

Gill stables about 50 horses at Laurel Park with Robb and about 50 at Bowie with Gamaliel Vasquez. Gill said he owns about 275 horses. He is buying a training center just over the Pennsylvania line, not far from Fair Hill, where he can stable another 80 or 90, he said. Where's he going to stable the rest?

"I have no idea; that's the $64,000 question," he said. "I can't put them in my back yard. I've considered calling Fasig-Tipton and telling them to auction all my horses."

Gill said his goal in racing was to win an Eclipse Award as top owner. He tried to do that by winning the most races, even if it meant ostracizing himself and losing a few million dollars each year, which he does, he said. He is wealthy because of his successful mortgage company in New England.

But now, he said, he has no chance of winning an Eclipse because no one would vote for him. He has angered track officials and other horsemen, and many bettors suspect his every move.

"Maybe it is a problem I have," he said. "I want to be the best at whatever I do. I've always been the guy with 20 seconds left who dives for the ball when I'm 20 points behind."

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