By: Matt Hegarty
Marcus Vitali, the controversial trainer who has been banned by several tracks along the East Coast, has been allowed to enter a horse at Parx after receiving a stay of an ejection order from the Philadelphia-area track, according to officials and rulings.
The stay of the ejection order was issued on Jan. 31, according to records of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. The stay will be in place until the racing commission can hold a hearing into Vitali’s appeal of the order and subsequently issue a ruling, according to Tom Chuckas, the director of the Thoroughbred Bureau of the commission.
Vitali has entered Eagle of Delight in a $7,500 claiming race scheduled on Saturday at Parx. Eagle of Delight, a 6-year-old mare with two wins from 36 starts, is owned by Dennis J. Federico.
Alan Pincus, the attorney for Vitali, said on Wednesday that no hearing has yet been scheduled.
Pincus had earlier filed a federal lawsuit against the Pennsylvania commission and Parx after they denied an entry from Vitali late last year, arguing that the track could not bar his entries without issuing a formal ejection order. The lawsuit was withdrawn after Parx issued a formal ejection order this year, leading to the appeal.
In Pennsylvania, targets of an ejection order have the right under state law to challenge the order in a hearing in front of the racing commission. That is not the case in many other states, including Maryland and Florida, where tracks have banned Vitali under broad rights to deny licensees access to the grounds that can only be challenged through the civil courts.
“A racetrack has the right to say someone is an undesirable,” Pincus said. “In Pennsylvania you have the right to dispute that. That’s not the case in these other states. So where else could he go but Pennsylvania?”
Vitali has led a peripatetic existence in the past year after he was charged with eight medication violations in Florida early in 2016. As a maneuver to escape penalties for the violations – which were all overages for therapeutic medications on a controlled-substance list used by Florida and other states – Vitali gave up his Florida license and moved his operation to Maryland. At the time that Vitali was charged with the positives, Florida had issued dozens of similar medication violations to trainers under new rules that were put in place at the start of the year.
Shortly thereafter, Maryland tracks moved to block entries from the trainer. Vitali later reached a settlement with Florida regulators to serve a 120-day suspension for the violations, but Florida tracks denied the trainer’s entries, while opening probes into whether he was training horses in the stables of a former assistant. The circumstances surrounding the ejection orders and probes has led to widespread criticism among racing fans.
“I have represented some people with very bad records, and I don’t understand what the big deal is with this fellow,” said Pincus, who said that Vitali had received some “very bad legal advice” that led to his decision to give up his Florida license. “He has not had anything more than a Class D violation in 30 years of training, and he served his suspension. Call me a bleeding-heart liberal, but I believe in second chances and due process.”