Veitch dismissed as Kentucky steward

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- John Veitch was dismissed as chief state steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday, according to his lawyer, five months after the commission conducted hearings into whether Veitch had broken racing rules when handling the Life At Ten incident at the 2010 Breeders' Cup.

Veitch, a Hall of Fame trainer who was appointed chief state steward in 2005, was informed of the dismissal by letter from the Kentucky Public Protection Cabinet, which oversees the racing commission, according to Tom Miller, Veitch's lawyer. The dismissal was effective as of Monday, Miller said. No cause was given in the letter.

"John was told to come to the racing commission office and he was told he was discharged," Miller said. "That's about all we can say."

Dick Brown, a spokesman for the Public Protection department, said on Tuesday that Rick Williams, the assistant director of the Kentucky Breeders' Incentive Fund and an accredited steward, will fill in for Veitch on an interim basis. Kentucky's next live race day is Thursday, when Turfway Park opens its winter meet.

Brown said that the commission has not yet started a formal process to fill the chief steward's spot.

"The process is not yet underway, but will be shortly," Brown said. "It's an important position that needs to be filled."

The dismissal followed by two weeks the resignation of Lisa Underwood, the commission's executive director, who returned to private law practice after leading the commission for six years. Underwood and Veitch had often clashed on the commission's priorities and penalty guidelines for medication infractions, according to testimony Veitch gave during the three-day hearing into the Life At Ten incident.

Veitch was charged with multiple violations of Kentucky racing law for failing to order Life At Ten to be examined after John Velazquez, the filly's rider, told television commentators that Life At Ten was "not warming up like she normally does" just before the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. The filly finished last in the race, creating a controversy over whether she should have been scratched because of the comments.

The commission conducted a three-day hearing in early July to consider the charges, and Veitch vigorously defended his role during sometimes-adversarial questioning. The hearing officer's report was due by mid-November, but the commission granted an extension for the preparation of the report until mid-December.

Miller said he found the timing of Veitch's dismissal "curious" considering the report has not yet been released.

Because the dismissal was issued without cause, Miller said that Veitch cannot appeal the decision as a state employee. Miller said, however, that he was looking into avenues of recourse that might be available to Veitch.

"We'll look at what his rights are, and we're particularly interested in how the dispute with the racing commission affected the decision," Miller said.