By: Frank Angst
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission June 15 denied suspended trainer Otabek Umarov’s request for a stay in his lengthy suspension until a hearing can be conducted.
On May 27, following a one-hour formal hearing before the stewards, KHRC staff issued a 10-year suspension of Umarov and fined him $10,000 because of violations April 30 at Churchill Downs related to out-of-competition testing rules, possession of hypodermic needles, syringes, and injectable medications. The board of stewards determined Umarov removed Looks to Spare from the grounds of the Louisville track to an undisclosed location after the horse had been selected for out-of-competition testing.
Appearing at a special meeting of the KHRC June 15, Umarov’s attorney, Justin Fowle,s requested that the commission overturn the decision of executive director Marc Guilfoil and grant Umarov a stay until final adjudication. After listening to Fowles request a stay and KHRC general counsel John Forgy’s defense of the KHRC decision to immediately enforce the suspension, commissioners met in executive session for about a half-hour before unanimously voting to uphold Guilfoil’s decision to not grant a stay.
Forgy argued that Umarov went to great lengths to avoid having his horse subjected to out-of-competition testing and eventually removed him from the Churchill property to avoid being tested. He said because of the flagrant nature of those efforts, no stay should be granted.
“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated,” said Forgy, whon noted that Umarov didn’t follow instructions from the stewards.
After the vote of the commissioners, Fowles said he planned go to Franklin County Circuit Court to request a stay of Umarov’s suspension.
In a 10-minute presentation to the commission, Fowles said Umarov should be granted a stay because there are doubts that Umarov broke any rule, there is no harm if Umarov is allowed to continue to train while the case is adjudicated, and Umarov will suffer great economic harm if he’s unable to train while the case is adjudicated.
Fowles said the stewards’ hearing did not include an interpreter for Umarov, who speaks English but is originally from Uzbekistan. Fowles said because of the detailed nature of such a hearing, Umarov had difficulty understanding the serious nature of the charges.
“He should have been afforded a translator,” Fowles said. “If I take this down to the Franklin County Circuit Court, they’ll agree with me.”
Forgy said there was no need for an interpretor.
“He may not be fluent in English but he understands,” said Forgy, who noted that Umarov never said he was having difficulty following any part of the hearing.
Fowles and Forgy also offered differing assessments of what occurred on the day in question, April 30 at Churchill, in the handling of Looks to Spare.
Fowles said the problems began when KHRC veterinarian Nick Smith did not properly identify himself when he approached Umarov’s barn to collect the out-of-competition sample. Fowles said Umarov expected Smith to have some type of identification.
Forgy said Umarov had met Smith during the Churchill meet in November 2015 and knew he was a state veterinarian.
Fowles said Umarov removed Looks to Spare from the grounds after the Pollard’s Vision gelding suffered exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, and the trainer decided not to enter him in the Alysheba Stakes (gr. II).
Forgy said great efforts were made the morning of April 30 to let Umarov know that if he did not allow an out-of-competition sample to be collected, he would face significant sanctions. Forgy said despite the efforts from KHRC vets and chief steward Barbara Borden, Umarov not only refused to allow a sample to be tested but removed the horse from the grounds.
Forgy said Umarov had been told repeatedly that he had to allow a sample to be collected that morning, but that afternoon the trainer had the horse removed from the grounds. Forgy said Umarov signed the horse out from the Churchill stable gate at 12:37 p.m. EDT.
On May 11 the KHRC also suspended Umarov employee Yulia Burdeniuk for her role in removing Looks to Spare from the grounds.
Forgy said even if Umarov planned to scratch the horse from the race, Looks to Spare was still subject to out-of-competition testing on both of the qualifying conditions of Kentucky racing rules that allow for such testing of any horse on track grounds or any horse nominated to a stakes in Kentucky—regardless of location.
Forgy said Borden stayed at Churchill until midnight that night to allow Umarov to return the horse to the grounds for pre-race testing. Fowles said the horse was transported to a farm in Paducah, Ky.
Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Marty Maline said his group had hoped the KHRC would issue the stay. Maline said the Kentucky HBPA wasn’t focused on the particulars of the case but believes fairness calls for horsemen to receive final adjudication before sanctions begin.