Jockey Terry Houghton has filed a lawsuit against Arlington Park asking for damages for loss of income and harm to his reputation as a result of the track banning him from riding at its ongoing summer meet.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., alleges seven counts against Arlington Park, including violation of Houghton's constitutional rights, interference with Houghton's contractual relationships with owners, defamation, and slander.
Houghton, 39, was one of 10 riders banned at various racetracks late last year and early this year because of an ongoing investigation into suspicious betting patterns on races they rode last year.
Late in April, just prior to the start of the Arlington meet, Houghton, who rode at Hawthorne Race Course in south Chicago earlier this year, was informed by Arlington's parent company, Churchill Downs, that he would be banned from Arlington this summer. Churchill cited the investigation, which is being led by a racetrack-owned company, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. The protective bureau has declined to comment on the investigation.
Houghton's attorney, Arthur Engelland, said the suit did not seek to have the ban lifted, as Houghton is scheduled to go before the Illinois Racing Board on June 14 to appeal Arlington's decision.
"It's just looking for damages because of the ban," Engelland said. "It can't be cured by them saying 'Now you can ride.' And the longer they keep him from riding, the more the damages are going to pile up."
Dan Leary, a spokesman for Arlington, said the track had not yet reviewed the lawsuit and that it would have no comment because Churchill does not comment on pending litigation.
As private property owners, racetracks have wide latitude to enforce bans on riders, trainers, and even customers. The right has been upheld on numerous occasions by courts. In fact, courts have ruled that racetracks have even broader powers to ban individuals than most private property owners because of the need to ensure the integrity of races.
Earlier this month, Houghton appeared before the Illinois Racing Board to argue that he should be allowed to ride at Arlington. According to a transcript of the hearing, investigators for the protective bureau said the investigation centered on three races, one at Tampa Bay Downs on April 10, 2006, and two at Great Lakes Downs, on Aug. 26 and Sept. 5.
In two of those races, on April 10 and Sept. 5, bettors in Michigan and Delaware cashed large trifecta tickets by systematically excluding Houghton's mounts, the protective bureau said.
Engelland, who is also representing Houghton in front of the board, said during the hearing that investigators did not have any phone or banking records that indicated that Houghton was aware of any of the activities of the bettors, according to the transcript.
- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh