The fallout from favored Sweet Catomine’s fifth-place finish in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby reached seismic proportions Monday when the filly’s trainer was fired and her owner, Marty Wygod, was accused by the California Horse Racing Board of secretly transporting the horse to a clinic five days before the race.
The Sweet Catomine episode smacks of something out of a Dick Francis novel. The filly, according to the racing board’s three-point complaint against Wygod, left Santa Anita for Los Olivos, about 140 miles north, in the dark of night. She was identified to track security as a stable pony, rather than the horse who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and earned an Eclipse Award.
Sweet Catomine, according to state investigators, left Santa Anita at 3:15 a.m. on April 4 and returned about 40 hours later, last Tuesday night. She was also identified as a pony when she got back to Santa Anita.
Driver Dean Kerkhoff of Racehorse Transport was also named in the complaint. A hearing is scheduled before the stewards at Hollywood Park on April 23.
According to a report by Christopher Loop, senior special investigator for the racing board, “records of departure and arrival were deliberately falsified to conceal the true identity and activities of the horse.”
Racetracks are concerned about horses leaving the grounds, especially after they have been entered to run in races. Trainer Julio Canani was aware that Sweet Catomine had left his barn, but he was not named in the complaint. Wygod, who transferred five horses, including Sweet Catomine, from Canani to trainer John Shirreffs, said that the racing board’s investigation played no part in the switch. Canani, who couldn’t be reached for comment, had told friends after the Santa Anita Derby that he was quitting Wygod.
“The change is better for him, and better for us,” Wygod said. “Sweet Catomine will probably wind up at Belmont Park, with a leading trainer back there.”
Wygod said it was not his idea to misidentify Sweet Catomine to security at Santa Anita.
“The mentality of the van guy might have something to do with this,” Wygod said. “I think he did what was done on his own. We had said that there would be a lot of curiosity seekers, and we wanted everything done low-profile, but never ... did we want him to do what he did.”
Kerkhoff told investigators that he was asked to keep the horse low-profile and interpreted that to mean that he should be “low-key” about the horse’s identity.
The racing board’s complaint also cited Wygod with “conduct detrimental to horse racing.” This was in reference to statements Wygod allegedly made before and after the race, a Kentucky Derby prep that was won by Buzzards Bay, a 30-1 shot.
After the race, Wygod said that Sweet Catomine had bled during her final workout, had begun ovulating, for the first time, three days before the race and had a minor foot problem the week of the race.
“The perception of the betting public was that they were wagering upon reliable information, which was widely broadcast,” Loop’s report read. “The information concerning the true condition of the horse was not complete, or factual, in its presentation.”
Wygod said that he had mentioned Sweet Catomine’s problems in pre-race interviews with NBC, which televised the race, and a Sports Illustrated reporter, who wasn’t writing until after the race.
“What was I to do?” Wygod said. “My vets said the filly was all right, and my trainer said she was all right. I told the Santa Anita people on Wednesday that she had some problems, and there was always the chance that we could scratch. I was apprehensive, and said so the day before the race. But [the reporter] then didn’t ask me why I was apprehensive. Most of the questions were about how I was feeling, not how the filly was feeling.”
Wygod said that he sent Sweet Catomine to the Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos because he wanted to get another opinion about her condition.
At Alamo Pintado, Sweet Catomine underwent treatment for internal bleeding that did not involve medication. William Bell, state veterinarian at Santa Anita, told a racing board investigator that the treatment will not give a horse a racing advantage. Bell said that it is not required that he be notified of the treatment as long as it occurs before the day entries are taken. Entries for the Santa Anita Derby were taken on Wednesday, the morning after Sweet Catomine was returned to Canani’s barn.
Corey Nakatani, who rode Sweet Catomine, said that she was sluggish during the post parade. The filly, who went off at even money, won’t run in the Kentucky Derby on May 7, Wygod said after the race.
“For some reason, she was not the same horse,” Wygod said. “I’m only speculating, but I think she was sedated. Leading up to the race, she was given three legal medications, including Lasix [for bleeding]. I think those three medications put her to sleep.”