Saturday, October 20, 2012

Minnesota Racing Commission Investigates Two

I enjoy the freedom of the blog format.  It allows me to do a bit more than I can when I’m limited to 300 words in the Form.  I also get to throw in commentary, disclaimers and the like which are frowned upon in national publications.  And rightly so, I might hastily add.  So with commentary, disclaimers and hedging – since all the facts are decidedly NOT in; here is the latest at the Minnesota Racing Commission.

Additional information is emerging on the investigations being conducted by the state into two Commission officials, Assistant Executive Director Mary Manney and Chief State Veterinarian Dr. Lynn Hovda.  Information is still sketchy and, for the most part, only one side of each story has been made public so it is difficult to come to a consensus on what exactly occurred in each incident.
The most important bit of information for the wagering (and racing) public is that neither investigation pertains to the integrity of racing or wagering at the two Minnesota tracks and their card clubs.
Mary Manney was placed on paid administrative leave on September 7, 2012 pending an investigation of alleged insubordination.  According to her attorney, Sheila Englemeier, the allegations are “completely false.  When my client was put out of work she was sent a letter promising a fair and thorough investigation and yet still has not been talked to about the issue.”
Englemeier also questioned the timing of the leave saying that prior to her client being placed on administrative leave she presented several oral complaints of MRC Commission Chairman Jesse Overton’s bullying behavior toward woman.  On October 4, Manney filed a formal sexual discrimination complaint with the MRC.
“My client has a right to due process,” said Englemeier.  “And the process so far has made her look like a criminal.  We will give the state of Minnesota a chance to do the right thing.  My client would like to get back to work.  She is ready to roll up her sleeves and work hard.”
In response, Chairman Overton said, “I am confused by this attack on my professional reputation by Mary Manney’s attorney. I will respond at the appropriate time.  I have every confidence that I will have an opportunity – and the public deserves to know – all of the facts surrounding this case and Jesse Overton.”
Through her attorney, Roberta Brackman, Dr. Hovda issued a statement regarding her investigation because she felt it was time for her version (remember – we only have one side here) of events to come to light rather than being defined by “simply a damning single headline.”   
On July 4, with temperature skyrocketing past 100 degrees in Minnesota and racing cancelled due to extreme heat, four horses shipped in from Texas with their trailer on top of a flatbed truck.  The horses were in distress and Hovda was contacted by track staff while they tried to determine a way to unload the animals.
According to the statement, Hovda, in consultation with another vet and the Executive Director of the MRC, Richard Krueger, proceeded to provide aid, including banamine injections, with the permission of the accompanying groom. The horses were eventually unloaded safely by the Canterbury staff and the horses treated by the trainer’s veterinarian. 
After the owner and trainer complained to the MRC, an investigation was conducted by the Minnesota Management and Budget Office through an outside investigator.  In her statement, Brackman concludes:
“The bottom line is this – Dr. Hovda did her job and did it well, saving four horses from possible injury or death. Her actions are supported by numerous experts in the field.  And yet, the Commission has permitted this ordeal to linger more than a month since the fact-finding was complete.”
How long the outside investigator had to file his report is not known and may have a bearing on why this has taken so long to get resolved.  Additionally, without the contents of the complaint it is difficult to determine the particulars.  It is known that Dr. Hovda administered banamine, an equine analgesic, to help mitigate the symptoms of distress.  Horses cannot run with more than just a trace amount (20 nanograms of the substance or metabolite(s) thereof per milliliter of blood plasma or serum) of the drug in their system and, according to some experts, could take up to 45-days to reach that level, effectively relegating them to one start for the remainder of the meet.  Were there other options available that maybe would have allowed the horses to run sooner?  That I don’t know - I’m not a vet.  But shipping 4 animals the width of the country to race is not cheap and there was certainly no way to recoup that with only one start. 
The previous day, at the regularly scheduled meeting of the MRC, Overton had an on-air conflict with KTSP reporter Jay Kolls as Kolls repeatedly asked Overton to comment on the integrity of racing in Minnesota stating, “That is a fair question for the public, isn’t it?” 
Not to be an Overton defender, but on this point one thing is clear – if Kolls bothered to pick up a Star-Tribune he would have known that the crux of the investigations had to do with treatment of allegedly heat exhausted horses and alleged insubordination and absolutely zero to do with the protection of the public as far as fair races and the integrity of gambling is concerned.  My guess? People will tune in to watch about shady gambling but not a story of basic government investigations.  Overton was not far wrong when he said that Kolls should do some real investigative reporting and that there is “no cloud over anything in Minnesota over racing” – the racing product is secure and to repeatedly insinuate that it’s not is misleading at best.
A lot of folks are looking to pass judgment one way or another.  I think it’s clear that we have not heard all sides of all equations and the real question is: when will we?  If, as Dr. Hovda’s statement says, her investigation was deemed over on September 10th, how is there no resolution on October 20th?  That’s an exceedingly long time to write up your findings.  As for Manney, she was placed on administrative leave on September 7 and says that she still does not know the actions that caused the action by the Commission.  Shouldn’t the wheels of even a bureaucracy move a bit quicker than this - especially when someone’s livelihood and reputation are on the line?  As for the allegations against Chairman Overton, when does he have his day or does that have to wait until after the holidays? 
Minnesota racing has never looked better than it does right now – the last thing it needs at this moment is bureaucratic scandal to taint the progress being made on the racetrack.


Charles Simon said...

What "expert" said that banamine can be found at levels that couldnt be raced on for 45 days? That is a so far wrong that it is scary. Banamine has a 48 hour withdrawl period in virtually every state.

Theodore L. Grevelis said...

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Charles! I had no less than 3 people - owners, breeders and farm owners - tell me that about Banamine. Interestingly, this further begs the question: if she saved the horses lives AND didn't compromise their ability to race, why would a complaint be filed? I guess I could understand if they couldn't race and there was a better alternative, but under your scenario, all ended pretty well. More questions than answers...