Hearing panel issues final decision in matter of Robert A. Baffert
by Pat McKenna
Following the issuance of a hearing report by Judge O. Peter Sherwood in April, and in accordance with the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) hearing rules and procedures, a three-member hearing panel has today delivered a final determination in the matter of Robert A. Baffert.
After a two-month review of the 50-page hearing report, the panel has moved to suspend Mr. Baffert from racing or training activities at all NYRA tracks for 365 calendar days effective immediately.
The panel’s decision credits Mr. Baffert with 59 days served under the prior NYRA temporary suspension as well as the 90-day suspension issued by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and reciprocally honored by the New York State Gaming Commission. Accordingly, Mr. Baffert is excluded from participating in racing or training activities at all NYRA tracks through January 25, 2023.
“This was an impartial and deliberative process that has resulted in a lengthy suspension of the sport’s most prominent trainer,” said Dave O’Rourke, NYRA President & CEO. “However, this is not simply about Bob Baffert or any one individual but about protecting the integrity of the sport here in New York. Today’s decision advances that goal.”
The 14-page decision issued by the hearing panel can be found here.
As addressed in the NYRA hearing rules and procedures, which can be found here, the decision of the hearing panel is “final” and takes effect “immediately.” Further, Rule 16(f) states that, “There shall be no administrative appeal within NYRA of the Panel’s final decision.”
In September 2021, NYRA delivered a statement of charges to Mr. Baffert alleging that he had engaged in conduct detrimental to the best interests of the sport of thoroughbred racing or potentially injurious to the health or safety of horses or riders.
Further, as detailed in the statement of charges, NYRA charged that the conduct warrants revocation or suspension of Baffert’s right to train horses, enter races, or engage in any racing-related activity at all NYRA properties including Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
NYRA established Hearing Rules and Procedures to provide a formalized mechanism for a respondent to reply to charges and to participate in a hearing in accordance with due process rights.
The NYRA administrative hearing in the matter of Mr. Baffert commenced on Monday, January 24 and concluded on Friday, January 28. Judge Sherwood, a retired New York State Supreme Court Justice, served as hearing officer to ensure the proceedings were fairly and impartially conducted in accordance with NYRA’s Hearing Rules and Procedures.
The hearing report issued by Judge Sherwood can be found here.
Biographical information on members of the hearing panel:
John J. Carusone, Jr., Esq.
An attorney with the firm Carusone & Carusone in Saratoga Springs, New York, John Carusone has practiced law in the greater Saratoga Springs community for more than 40 years. Mr. Carusone is an appointee of the City of Saratoga Springs to the Saratoga Race Course Local Advisory Board (SLAB). The advisory board was legislatively authorized in 2008 and serves as a mechanism to encourage productive and consistent dialogue between the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA), Saratoga County and the City of Saratoga Springs.
Mr. Carusone sits on the board of directors at both Arrow Financial Corporation and Saratoga National Bank and Trust Company. He is a graduate of Hamilton College and Albany Law School.
Will Alempijevic is the Executive Director of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA), which represents the interests of thoroughbred owners and trainers NYRA tracks. NYTHA serves as New York State’s recognized representative of owners and trainers and works to protect the economic interests of all horsemen and to gain public recognition of horse racing as a vital industry, deserving support, protection and preservation.
Mr. Alempijevic sits on the board of directors of the Backstretch Employee Service Team, the non-profit based at Belmont Park that works to support the healthcare needs of the NYRA backstretch community. He is a graduate of Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario with a degree in economics with financial management.
Rev. Humberto Chavez leads the New York Race Track Chaplaincy of America (RTCNY), the non-profit ministering to the spiritual needs of the NYRA backstretch community through enrichment programs and nondenominational religious services. Rev. Chavez was named Chaplain of the RTCNY in 2003 and has expanded its work and reach in the years since. The RTCNY recently broke ground on a new headquarters located on the grounds of Belmont Park.
In addition to his work with the RTCNY, Rev. Chavez is the lead pastor of the Bridge Church of Malverne, NY, where he and his wife Rev. Karen Chavez had previously started a now thriving Spanish speaking ministry. In 2020, The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) presented him with its Industry Service Award, given to the individual person who has made exceptional contributions to the horse racing industry.
Rev. Chavez is the chairman of the board of the Elmont Police Athletic League. He and his wife Karen live in Franklin Square with their three children.