An abundance of caution or a culture of hysteria? The Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles may be the ultimate decider.
George Sharp, thoroughbred horse owner, filed a lawsuit against Santa Anita Park and its owner, Stronach Group. He claimed that said culture prompted his horse, League of Shadows, to be scratched from a race at the Southern California track in January.
Sharp wants the winner’s share of that purse, fees and training costs, transportation, and compensation for rebuilding League of Shadows’ reputation after the vet scratch. Moreover, he wants to make a point about the “oppressive” rule changes made by Santa Anita Park to ease pressure after numerous horse fatalities at the track.
Late Scratch at California Cup Sprint
The race was one of many at Santa Anita Park on January 18, 2020. There were $900,000 in purses up for grabs that day over the course of five races. The California Cup Sprint was the second one on the schedule, offering a $150,000 purse for four-year-olds and up to race six furlongs on the dirt track.
There were 14 nominations for the race, one of which was League of Shadows, owned by George A. Sharp and trained by Kerri Raven.
Ultimately, only five horses ran, and League of Shadows was not one of them.
Sharp contended that his gelding was examined and approved for the race when he arrived at Santa Anita, as well as on the morning of the race, in the paddock, and in the walking ring. Jockey Rueben Fuentes said there were “no soundness issues” and said as much to Santa Anita veterinarian Dana Stead, who subsequently scratched League of Shadows from the race.
According to Sharp’s account, Stead told Sharp his horse was “off” in the right front and hind end. However, Sharp brought in a private veterinarian to examine League of Shadows that evening and another one the next morning. Both attested that League of Shadows “was fit for racing” and saw no reason for him to be scratched.
Mounting Up for a Court Battle
The lawsuit accuses Santa Anita Park and The Stronach Group of humiliating Sharp, creating a perception that he wanted to run an unfit horse. Further, he believes that League of Shadows was the casualty of “creating the facade that the defendants were dealing with the escalation of horse fatalities at its facility.” And he alleged that the defendants have “systematically committed these acts of fraud against other horsemen” as well.
Weeks after the original filing, Sharp amended his complaint to allege that the defendants are unfairly targeting shippers in favor of local horses. League of Shadows was shipped in from Turf Paradise in Arizona. “The defendants tend to apply the practice of arbitrarily scratching horses,” he alleged, “in a disproportionate and unfair manner to horses which are not permanently stabled at Santa Anita.”
Sharp is suing for $90,000, the winner’s share of the purse that he feels his horse would have won despite being 31-1. Other costs include $,881 for training, $700 for transportation, and other costs associated with the trip to Santa Anita and the services of Fuentes as the jockey.
League of Shadows Unbothered
The six-year-old gelding unknowingly in the middle of the lawsuit has raced twice since the Santa Anita scratch.
At the Phoenix Gold Cup Handicap on February 8 and an allowance race on February 23, League of Shadows raced without difficulty. He finished sixth in the Turf Paradise race and second in the Allowance Optional Claiming race, the latter worth $3,800.
League of Shadows won three allowance races in 2019, two of which were in November. He earned $58,627 in total last year.