By: Matt Hegarty
A circuit court judge in Kentucky has issued a temporary restraining order that will prevent the state racing commission from enforcing a 10-year ban on the owner-trainer Otabek Umarov.
Judge Philip Shepherd of Franklin Circuit Court wrote that the restraining order will remain in effect until Umarov’s appeal of the sanction is heard by the racing commission or until Shepherd makes a second ruling in the case that would dissolve the restraining order. John Forgy, the general counsel for the racing commission, did not immediately return a phone call Thursday, but he indicated in a hearing on Wednesday that the commission expects to file a challenge to Umarov’s motion.
“The court finds that imposition of the penalty prior to completion of the administrative appeal process would inflict immediate and irreparable injury on the plaintiff,” Shepherd wrote, “and that the balance of the equities and the public interest support the right of the plaintiff to complete his due-process appeal rights before being subjected to the hardship of losing his ability to earn a living through his licensed activities.”
Umarov was banned by the racing commission near the end of May after stewards alleged that he refused to allow one of his horses stabled at Churchill Downs to be sampled for drug testing. The stewards also claimed that Umarov exacerbated the situation when he secretly ordered a stable employee to remove the horse from the grounds while in discussions with commission personnel to resolve the matter. Commission personnel also claimed to have found four loaded syringes in a search of Umarov’s vehicle after he refused to provide access to the horse.
Umarov, a native of Uzbekistan who immigrated to the U.S. in 2000, has disputed the stewards’ interpretation of his actions, and his attorney, Justin Fowles, has claimed that he was not given a fair hearing because he is not fluent in English.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s executive director, Marc Guilfoil, denied Umarov’s request for a stay in early June. That request was also denied by the full commission last week, leading Umarov to the civil courts.
While the ruling by Shepherd puts Umarov’s license in good standing, at least for the time being, Umarov will have difficulty returning to racing in Kentucky because Churchill Downs ejected him from the grounds as a result of the April 30 incident. Ejection orders are generally upheld by courts under broad rights of exclusion held by private companies, and many racetracks give weighty consideration to existing ejection orders when deciding whether to allow licensees on their own grounds.
Fowles said on Thursday that Umarov has not yet decided whether to challenge the ejection order.
“He is going to attempt to get back to training, and he is considering his options,” Fowles said.