Monday, October 05, 2020

Fipke v. California Horse Racing Board (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 5, 2020)

I can't say that I knew much about how jockeys get selected and paid in horses races before today.  But as a result of this opinion, I certainly now know a little more than I did an hour ago.

The facts of the case are undisputed.  It's just a question of what's legally allowed.

"Fipke is the owner of a thoroughbred racehorse named Forever Unbridled. The horse was scheduled to run in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff race on November 3, 2017, which carried a purse of $2 million. The draw for the race—which is the point when post positions are selected and jockey assignments finalized—was scheduled for October 30 at 5:00 p.m. Any jockey changes made after the draw must be approved by the race stewards.

The day before the draw, Forever Unbridled’s trainer entered the horse in the race and named Rosario as the jockey. This is referred to as giving Rosario “the call.” The next morning, Fipke told the trainer to remove Rosario as the jockey and instead name John Velazquez. Fipke thought Rosario had ridden one of his horses poorly in a prior race, and he was upset that Rosario was unwilling to ride some of his other horses. At Fipke’s direction, prior to the draw, the trainer removed Rosario as the jockey and named Velazquez instead."

Rosario complained, Fipke stood his ground, and Forever Unbridled subsequently won the race, which resulted in Velazquez earning a $110,000 riding fee. But the racing stewards then decided that Rosario was also entitled to $110,000 (a "double jockey fee") for being removed.  At which point administrative proceedings and, ultimately, litigation commenced.

At the end of the day (today), Fipke wins.  The Court of Appeal holds that the statute doesn't allow racing stewards to award double jockey fees unless the jockey is replaced after the "scratch" time, which is after the "draw" (and after Rosario was replaced here).  So Fipke gets to keep his $110,000 and Rosario loses it.

Tiny win for Fipke (who's got more money than he knows what to do with) and corresponding huge loss for Rosario.  I suspect that Fipke may have spent more money on lawyers than the $110,000 at stake in the matter.  But when you're rich, you can do that.  Matters of principle (or spite), you know.