Franklin is closer to getting license

Jockey must undergo counseling, drug tests over next 6 months

February 21, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland Racing Commission yesterday gave veteran jockey Ron Franklin, if not all that he wanted, at least hope that it is within his reach.

After scolding him, the commission restored Franklin's exercise rider license, which had been suspended Nov. 5, 2005, and told him if he meets specific requirements over the next six months, the commission "will entertain an application" for the restoration of his jockey's license, which was suspended in 1992.

Hearing that, Franklin - a teenage star whose career was ruined by drug use - allowed a look of relief to pass over his face, accompanied by a brief smile.

"It's positive, very positive," Franklin said, his voice choked with emotion. "They didn't have to give me anything. I really thank the [commission] and everyone who has worked with me to be able to be at this point."

Franklin then walked up to the commissioners - a five-man committee that met after the monthly commission meeting at Laurel Race Course - and shook each one's hand, including that of Alvin Aikman.

Aikman was the loudest voice against Franklin yesterday.

"He had all the talent in the world and threw it away," Aikman said during the hearing. "When he was here the last time, we gave him [an exercise] license, not earned, but gave it to him because of his past achievements. And he walked away from the program, from the people he was supposed to be in touch with.

"I've never had a jockey kiss us off the way he did."

Franklin, 47, grew up in Dundalk and attended Patapsco High School before becoming famous as a 19-year-old by riding Spectacular Bid to victories in the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and third place in the Belmont Stakes.

After the commission revoked his jockey's license in 1992, he requested it back in 1996 and was denied.

Two years ago, his exercise license was restored and he was told to attend counseling sessions and have random drug tests.

But shortly thereafter, he injured his knee and thought his career was over. When a friend invited him to Louisiana to recover, he left without formally ending his association with the commission or his counselor, leaving many bad feelings.

"His life wasn't over when he blew out his knee," Aikman said. "It was over when he started taking the drugs."

The commission is requiring that Franklin attend counseling sessions three times a week in Louisiana, that his counselor there be in regular contact with Bill Borchardt, the director of the Horseman's Counseling Program, and that Franklin undergo drug testing at least twice a month.

"This gives him another opportunity," said commissioner David Bramble, who was also on the commission in 2005. "Now, it's down on him not to squander it."

Aikman said after the vote he is OK with the outcome.

"I wasn't initially," he said. "I wasn't prepared to let him get his jockey's license. But I'm willing to let him exercise horses, with the stipulation that he go to counseling and get tested regularly before he can reapply in six months."

Borchardt, who handled Franklin's case in 2005, recommended the restoration of his exercise license and the six-month wait before considering a jockey's license.

"When I made the recommendation [early in the hearing], I was under the impression they'd grant him his license," Borchardt said. "I know that's what he wanted, and you want what you want. But in the program you usually get what you need. I thought he would be better served if he had to work for it."

Jose Molina, one of Franklin's attorneys, said he was pleased with the outcome, because it leaves Franklin with hope.

"It's definitely progress with a carrot to give him hope to keep him going," Molina said. "I think, emotionally, he needed more than a promise to revisit the issue in six months. I think restoring his exercise license did that. And I think they were basically saying if you do these things, you'll get your license."

Franklin, who testified he has been drug-free since 2000, wants to continue his racing career in Louisiana, but to do that, he must first be reinstated in Maryland.

Commissioner Tom McDonough said: "If he screws up again, I don't think he'll ever see a horse in a race again."

Notes -- As part of its regular meeting, the commission lamented this year's cancellation of the Pimlico Special, one of Maryland's three Grade I races, but approved the Pimlico spring stakes schedule, which includes 26 races for purses of $3.915 million, highlighted by the Preakness on May 19. ... The commission also encouraged thoroughbred and standardbred leaders to make sure they are in agreement on issues regarding current legislation dealing with industry funding issues before a March 8 hearing in front of the state House Ways and Means Committee.

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