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A hearing for trainer Bill Robinson is slated to take place on Saturday at Woodbine Racetrack.
According to Ontario Racing Commission judge Tom Miller, the hearing relates to the positive TCO2 test produced by the Robinson trained horse Flight Plan on November 8 at Mohawk Racetrack. This follows an information hearing two weeks ago attended by Mr. Robinson and his attorney Jean-Marc Mackenzie.
As a result of the positive test, the Woodbine Entertainment Group revoked Mr.Robinson's racing privileges at both Mohawk and Woodbine Racetracks.
Following a request by Mr. Robinson a three day quarantine was established for Flight Plan at Mohawk Racetrack to determine if the horse tested naturally high for TCO2. At the end of the quarantine period the horse was removed without the permission of the ORC officials.
Although there were reports that a second quarantine would be held at the University of Guelph for Flight Path, this did not take place.
A ruling by the Ontario Racing Commission is expected following Saturday's hearing.
Bill Robinson has been fined $100,000 and suspended for five years by the Ontario Racing Commission after a hearing yesterday at Woodbine Racetrack.
The decision is further to the positive test from the horse Flight Plan on November 8th at Mohawk Racetrack. As a result of that, and the trainer’s past history, Woodbine Entertainment had revoked his privileges to race at their tracks effective November 14.
Robinson’s employee Patrick Fletcher has been suspended for two months. That was as a result of removing Flight Plan from quarantine at Mohawk against the directions of the ORC officials. In addition to the ORC suspension, Fletcher has also been banned from WEG indefinitely.
Robinson’s suspension is to begin December 26 and run to December 26, 2008.
Last year’s Trainer of the Year in Canada, Robinson is again a finalist for an O’Brien Award. Standardbred Canada had earlier this year decided against adopting rules followed by several other jurisdictions which do not allow individuals under suspension to be considered for an award.
Robinson had been suspended earlier this year but that suspension was stayed to allow him to serve and file an application for judicial review by the Ontario Divisional Court.
Trainer Bill Robinson has made an appeal to the Ontario Racing Commission regarding his five year suspension and $100,000 fine but no decision will be made until tomorrow morning.
"Mr. Robinson has made a request for a stay today because he intends to appeal the recent ruling. His application was discussed today but no decision will be made until tomorrow," said Ontario Racing Commission Executive Director Jean Major.
The hefty suspension and fine came about following the elevated TC02 reading produced by pacer Flight Plan at Mohawk Racetrack on November 8.
The horse was placed in a 72 hour quarantine after Mr. Robinson alleged that the horse naturally produced high levels. An employee of the Robinson stable removed the horse from quarantine despite requests from ORC officials not to do so.
"Not a great deal of weight was given to the numbers that were produced in that time but there were significant fluctuations. Attempting to get a normal reading was very difficult," said Major.
Bill Robinson is the leading money winning trainer in Canada again this year and is one of two finalists for an O'Brien Award as Trainer of the Year which he won last year.
Robinson hearing scheduled for January 7
Tuesday, December 30, 2003 -
Trainer Bill Robinson will go before the Ontario Racing Commission on January 7.
He will be appealing his latest fine and suspension, C$100,000 and five years, handed out in the wake of a November 8 blood gas positive test.
Robinson will also reportedly ask the Commission to ask Woodbine Racetrack to accept Robinson's entries. The track banished him following the November 8 positive.
RE:5 Years, $100,000 Fine For Robinson
Day four of the Bill Robinson hearing at the Ontario Racing Commission was highlighted today by riveting testimony from Woodbine Entertainment Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer David Willmot who testified despite suffering from a severe bout of the flu.
In the span of one hour and 10 minutes, Mr. Willmot forcefully articulated the WEG position that left no one doubting the resolve the company has on this issue.
"We do not agree with the position of Bill Robinson and the Ontario Harness Horse Association that an Ontario Racing Commission license is a guarantee for participation in racing. In this case the ORC judges levied a severe penalty of a five year suspension and a $100,000 fine," argued Mr. Willmot.
"I do not recall a heavier fine for such an infraction in my nine years as CEO of this company. Under the ORC rules we are required to print that fact in our racing program. So you mean to tell me that we are then supposed to allow this man to continue racing at our tracks after the ORC's own judges have levied such a penalty? That can only be described at outrageous."
Mr. Willmot repeatedly hammered away at the issue of integrity and the fact that it is essential to the future of WEG's business.
"Make no mistake that our product is a gambling product. We are a heavily regulated business because of the wagering component. Racing is no different than the Ontario Securities Commission whereby if a stock broker is deemed to have a cloud over him for questionable practices then he is not allowed in front of the public until that has been resolved."
The racing administrator grabbed the attention of the small audience when he discussed the matter of drug testing.
"Recently I sat in on a Breeders Cup (Thoroughbred) meeting and it was the consensus of that board that post race testing does not appear to be keeping up with the development of new drugs. It is clear that there are some noted Thoroughbred trainers who we are certain of wrongdoing but our testing lags behind the efforts of the private sector. As an industry we are trying to do all we can within our means," he declared.
"I think our drug testing should be tougher. Three years ago we offered to supplement the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA) to the amount of $500,000 to advance the drug testing but were told that the agency was concerned that it would make an inequitable situation for the other tracks who could not provide that assistance. We are doing all we can to ensure the integrity of the racing product because we have to.
“Five years ago our board decided that integrity of racing was the number one agenda at our tracks. When Hugh Mitchell was hired as vice-president of Standardbred Racing (now senior vice-president of racing) I told him that he could become the most unpopular person in racing but it was something that had to be done."
Willmot then drew parallels to the fashion by which the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation operates its casinos and slot parlours.
"The OLGC is almost obsessive in its efforts to protect the public from any wrongdoing. The due diligence I went through in offering personal information right down to the canoe I owned was required to be a licensee. I believe we need similar standards of disclosure within racing.
“Gamblers are paranoid and more often than not are convinced that something funny is going on. If we as an industry do not have their confidence we’ll lose them as customers and we are doing everything we can to be a customer driven company. Perception is so important.
“To suggest that the ORC exists to place an emphasis on putting people’s livelihoods foremost is wrong. No other agency approaches their mandate in such a fashion."
Willmot's testimony addressed the specifics of the Robinson case.
"It's clear that Bill Robinson is a lightning rod for the integrity issue. Our policies at WEG are more stringent than anywhere else in Ontario. Our private property rights are only used in extreme circumstances to protect our customers and there is a litany of evidence over the years has proven its validity.
“It's clear there needs to be a balance between the public interest, the individual’s rights and the private property rights. However, we cannot see where an individual's rights out balance the greater good of the public in this instance. And simply because Mr. Robinson was granted a stay does not mean that he should be granted access to race at our tracks.
“The Trespass Act is extremely important to our business and is something we use very sparingly on the racing side. We have no idea how any business could run without that right and in the case of Bill Robinson we were more than justified in employing it."
Under cross-examination from Arlen Sternberg, attorney for Mr. Robinson, Mr. Willmot was challenged on the events which led to last year's fining and suspension of Jimmy Takter who trained the trotting filly Southwind Allaire which Mr. Willmot co-owns.
"Jimmy's employee was found to have an empty syringe in his truck outside the retention barn at Woodbine - our security staff discovered it. The ORC dealt with the matter quickly and had they not we would have stepped in. Jimmy was careless and fined $10,000 with a five day suspension. The ORC made that decision and as I say had they not moved within that 24 hour period WEG would have stepped in.
“If there is any perception that Jimmy Takter was granted special status because he trains a horse for me then I will sell all my interests in Standardbreds in a New York minute."
In questions from the ORC tribunal Mr. Willmot also made it clear that regardless of the ORC ruling, WEG would not relinquish its position regarding Bill Robinson.
"We are not walking away from this. There is no reason this hearing should be taking place and the sole reason we are here is the respect for the institution of the Ontario Racing Commission. This will be back to a court of appeal pretty quickly if need be.”
Mr. Willmot went on to state that WEG has spent $160 million in its facilities, development of The Racing Network, the recently announced internet wagering and of course the introduction of slot parlours as a second product line.
"Unlike most racetracks I have to point out that 60 percent of our purse account comes from actual wagering revenue. We are not so reliant on slot machine revenue. The reason for that is that we have gone to such lengths to protect our product. It's our name on the door and the customers expect an honest product and rely on us to provide that."
When Larry Todd, chair of the ORC tribunal, questioned Mr. Willmot on two incidences where WEG exercised the Trespass Act on Thoroughbred industry individuals who were later exonerated, Mr. Willmot explained the difference with the Robinson scenario.
"Both of those individuals were first time offenders whereas Mr. Robinson is a repeat offender. We have since worked out with the Horsemen's Benevolent & Protection Agency (HBPA) a clause in our contract to address due cause for first time offenders. This is quite different."
Earlier in the afternoon Jamie Martin, WEG vice-president of Standardbred racing offered his testimony.
His testimony explained the process by which Bill Robinson was served with the Trespass notice confirming that WEG would not accept his entries after the TCO2 positive test on the horse Flight Path and the subsequent hefty fine and suspension by the ORC judges.
"The move was made because of the TCO2 violation, his history of infractions at WEG and the outstanding matters before the ORC and the courts," said Mr. Martin.
"We have a business to protect and sometimes have to make those decisions to protect the product."
Racing Secretary Scott McKelvie also testified as did Pamela Bray, the stable area superintendent at Mohawk Racetrack where the quarantine for the horse Flight Path was staged.
The TCO2 hearing on that issue is slated to be held on March 17-18 at the ORC offices in Toronto.
The session concluded with the closing arguments by the three attorneys. A decision is expected from the tribunal early next week.
RE:5 Years, $100,000 Fine For Robinson
Former WEG Employee Admits Hacking Mitchell Email
Tuesday, February 17, 2004 - Harness Racing Communications
In a story running in Tuesday's Globe and Mail of Canada, Ken Hornick, a former employee of Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG), admitted that he hacked into WEG Senior Vice President of Racing Hugh Mitchell's e-mail account, obtained e-mail pertaining to trainer Bill Robinson and provided it to Robinson's second trainer. In the story, written by Beverley Smith, Hornick described his own actions as "evil" in an e-mail to Mitchell regarding the matter.
WEG barred Robinson from the premises of all their tracks in November 2003. In a recently concluded Ontario Racing Commission hearing, Robinson has asked the intervention of the Commission to overturn WEG's ban, saying that it constituted illegal regulation. In the hearing, which concluded on February 14, Robinson's attorney, Arlen Sternberg, brought into evidence an e-mail exchange between Mitchell and a trade journalist that Sternberg contended proves that Mitchell disliked Robinson and barred him for that reason. Sternberg did not disclose at the hearing how he obtained the email.
Mitchell denied Sternberg's assertions during the hearing. WEG Chairman and CEO David Willmot believes there is some question that e-mails in Mitchell's account may have been altered. "We have two issues here," Willmot told Globe and Mail. "The e-mail was not only hacked, but it also must have been altered." Willmot told Smith that the e-mail, "is a big issue because it is the linchpin of the entire case. Their argument is that we had no right to use our personal property rights in a capricious, arbitrary, unfair or personal matter. Our argument is that we use them to protect the best interests of our customers, the betting public and all the other competitiors who are honest in the game."
Willmot, who is an attoney, believes the revelation that Mitchell's e-mail was hacked should render the Robinson hearing moot. While testimony was concluded on Saturday, February 14, the Ontario Racing Commission has not announced a ruling. "The fact that it [e-mail] was allowed on the record should render it a mistrial," Willmot said.
Hornick had been most recently employed by Standardbred Canada, but a story on their web site today carries the news of his resignation.
RE:5 Years, $100,000 Fine For Robinson
Robinson appeal dismissed
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) announced that trainer Bill Robinson's appeal to negate the Trespass Notice given by Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) to prevent him from racing at Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks has been dismissed.
The agency in its ruling stated that "in our view, the public interest and the best interest of racing generally are served in this matter by our not varying, rescinding, or modifying the Trespass Notice of WEG directed to Mr. Robinson."
However, the ORC did draw attention to WEG's actions related to the refusal to accept entry of a horse owned by Katrina Schmitz, the common-law spouse of Mr. Robinson.
"We would be remiss if we did not express a concern that may have been observed from time to time throughout the evidence as it evolved. The refusal by WEG to accept the entry of a horse owned by Katrina Schmitz that was clearly never a part of the Robinson stable, on the facts before us, was over-reaching and excessive. We are pleased to see that the exercise of WEG's trespass rights was rectified, apparently of their own volition and without the need for formal proceedings."
In the 13 page ruling by ORC vice-Chair Larry Todd, it was also stated: "WEG's position, as presented to us is sound and reasonable based on their business interests, their business goals, the economic interest that they are currently protecting and seek to protect, and a consideration of the well-being of racing in general. We find that the foundation and basis of the vast majority of WEG's position is both unimpeachable and laudable."
There is no word on whether or not Mr. Robinson will pursue the matter at higher legal levels.
RE:5 Years, $100,000 Fine For Robinson
Robinson continues to divide racing community
By BEVERLEY SMITH
Globe and Mail Update
Harness trainer Bill Robinson rarely attends an award ceremony, although he wins many of them. He's a rebel of sorts. A big man with a brash confidence, Robinson does things his own way. It's in his veins. Last month, he showed up at the O'Brien Awards with a large entourage and he won his fourth citation as Canada's top trainer of the year.
A big cheer went up from his corner of the banquet room. An undercurrent of boos came from another. The O'Brien Awards are supposed to honour those who have made the greatest contribution to Canadian racing during a season. To Robinson, 57, of Hagersville, Ont., his win seemed like a triumph over adversity, with the majority of voters supporting him. To others, it seemed as if Robinson had trumped integrity.
A separate, informal Standardbred Canada website poll showed Robinson getting only 41 per cent of the website votes, while another trainer, Bob McIntosh, garnered 59 per cent.
Several horsemen voiced objections to the O'Brien Awards criteria, saying integrity should be a prerequisite. The O'Brien guidelines need to be changed to eliminate trainers who "disregard the rules and in doing so demonstrate lack of respect for their fellow horsepeople, racehorses, the betting public and the sport,'' said trainer Jim Gratton in an open letter.
And that's the way the standardbred world sits, split over what Robinson means to them.
Robinson won in spite of a large black cloud over his head. Nobody can remember a trainer being lauded as Canada's best while facing a five-year suspension from the sport and a $100,000 fine, Robinson's penalty for his latest in a string of drug infractions.
"Mr. Robinson is something of a lightning rod with respect to this integrity issue,'' said David Willmot, president of Woodbine Entertainment Group, where Robinson does 95 per cent of his work.
WEG has banned Robinson from his tracks, even though the Ontario Racing Commission granted him a stay after he appealed the decision. Robinson was granted a special hearing to fight the ban, but an ORC tribunal dismissed his appeal earlier this week.
WEG banned him because Robinson has had about 10 positive tests in his career (he says seven of them were minor), and two are still before the courts or the ORC. Robinson's lawyer, Arlen Sternberg, also argued that although Robinson has a string of positive tests, he races so many horses, that his average positive test per race is below average. Still, the track was worried that Robinson's presence on the circuit would turn off the betting public whose wagers bankroll the industry.
Robinson still has many battles to face off the racetrack. On March 17, he will be back at the ORC for his appeal of the penalties in his latest case, a high reading of TCO2 on the horse, Flight Plan last November 8. (Robinson says he has never administered TCO2 to horses, and that Flight Plan has an abnormally high level of the alkalysing substance in his system.)
And on Thursday (March 4), Robinson is seeking a judicial review in Ontario Divisional Court over a four-year-old case, involving a horse called Artistic, which was found with phenylpropanolamine, a Class III drug, in his system. Class 1 is the most serious level, while Class V is the least serious.
Robinson faces a fine of $50,000 and a 10-month suspension in that case.
Although one racing fan told WEG that it was about time it stopped Robinson's "chicanery,'' and that he was going to file a class action suit to retrieve wagers lost on races that Robinson contested, another said "big-money' owners'' were out to get Robinson out of jealousy and that the whole issue gave him heartburn.
There is much reason for heartburn behind the scenes. John Walzak, chief operating officer for the Ontario Harness Horse Association, which supported Robinson in the appeal of his recent WEG ban, says ORC penalties are too excessive and punitive.
Interestingly enough five years ago, operating with different executives, OHHA told a racing integrity forum that included ORC executive director Jean Major, that its penalties weren't steep enough, that they were just slaps on the wrist. Major listened.
Outspoken OHHA member Bert Smith, who testified in support of Robinson, has said publicly that he wants to see Major ousted, and that if he ran the ORC, he wouldn't impose such formidable penalties. Walzak doesn't agree with everything that Smith says. Walzak said he has a very good relationship with Major. "I feel he is a very effective civil servant,'' Walzak said.
He added that Smith was speaking for himself, rather than OHHA, at Robinson's hearing. Still, Walzak says Smith is an asset to OHHA, and that if he did speak for OHHA, "he would do a pretty good job....He is his own person who speaks for himself very well. Bert is speaking his mind and speaking what he thinks is the truth.''
Smith, however, is a controversial character with a colourful past. He told Trot magazine last summer that he was only peripherally involved in a civil suit involving the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 1997. He told Trot he had been named in the suit only because he had purchased media space for an Arizona man involved in a scheme that offers supposedly guaranteed loans for a fee - and then denies the loan.
However, according to the FTC offices in Seattle, Smith and a group of three or four other people are liable for payments totalling $1,658,351 (U.S.) for breaking rules that prohibit "unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.'' The court enforced a default judgment against Smith and others, because they failed to show up for a hearing and did not respond to court notices. The FTC is still awaiting payment.
According to the judgment, Smith (whose first name is spelled Englhieberth) was owner of Ideal Credit Referral Services Ltd., and "formulated, directed, controlled or participated in the acts and practices'' that caused grief to consumers.
His wife, Maria Tilotta Smith, was treasurer of another company also involved in the complaint.
The court said that various companies, including ones the Smiths directed, induced U.S. consumers to pay advance fees ranging from $200 to $540 and up for loans they claim were guaranteed.
Court documents showed that loan dealers placed ads in anything from USA Today to Soap Opera Weekly. Consumers weren't told they would be required to meet a minimum credit granting criteria. They were told to remit fees by overnight courier, and send copies of drivers' licences, Social Security cards, pay stubs and rental or mortgage receipts to an office operated by Tony Panella in Arizona. Panella then denied the loans, according to the court judgment..
The court ruled that Panella operated in concert with companies directed by Smith and others. If the court did not impose penalties, it said that the defendants would be "likely to continue to injure consumers, reap unjust enrichment and harm the public interest.''
Walzak was impressed enough with Smith to make him a member of OHHA's negotiating committee when OHHA had a dispute with WEG over having a say in simulcast signals. And last fall, Walzak and OHHA president Jim Whelan encouraged Smith to run as a director in the district that includes Woodbine racetrack. He didn't win.
Walzak has his own problems. The 5,600 members of OHHA have a reputation for being "fractious,'' he said. But he said OHHA is democratic and their decisions majority-driven. He said OHHA directors were unanimously behind Robinson's recent push to have WEG forfeit its trespass to property rights and allow him - and other horsemen - to race with a valid licence.
Walzak invited a reporter to contact directors to ask their opinion. However, when contacted, OHHA director George Millar flatly disagreed with Walzak's position. So did OHHA director John Bax, who won the O'Brien Award as Canada's top trainer in 2001.
Bax said he's 90 per sure that the OHHA executive didn't call for a vote on the issue or privilege of right to race at a track. Walzak testified that it was a right for a licenced horseman to race at a track, but Bax thinks the opposite, that it's a privilege.
Although Robinson has been quoted as saying that the majority of horsemen are behind him, OHHA director George Millar says horsemen are split. "There are individuals that back him, but I would venture to guess there might be even more that don't back him, that are happy that everybody is going after him.''
Millar praises WEG and the ORC for trying to ensure that the sport gains respect from the public.
Walzak, who used to teach racetrack law at the University of Arizona, says he is not sure how much the integrity question affects betting, that it's difficult to know if bettors are actually turned off by positive drug tests in racehorses or of how they form opinions about integrity, that he knows big bettors still in operation, and that because Robinson has been the most consistent trainer for the past decade, he may be the best example of integrity.
"I don't know what integrity means,'' Walzak said. "I'm not sure the people who use this word have any idea what it means. It's become a catch-all for justifying not treating horses, for justifying treating horses, for leveling the playing field.''
And further, Walzak said he wonders what it means to level the playing field. "How do you determine what affects performance?'' he told a reporter. " We know drugs can. We always know that consistency of a training regimen affects performance. We also know that food affects performance. We also know that where you train has an impact. All these athletes that used to go to Mexico City for six months to get acclimatized [to high altitude], is that a level playing field?....Why are we banning drugs and not other things if we know they affect performance?''
Asked if he therefore thought that drug use should be permitted, Walzak said: "I'm just questioning about how we change performance. Maybe there are other things we should be looking at as well.''
"He's an academic,'' Bax said of Walzak. "I think he's had his head in a textbook too long.''
Bax added that the Robinson case could have been a watershed in the racing business. "If Robinson wins, anything goes,'' he said. "Fortunately for us, Woodbine [was] willing to take on the fight.''
If WEG hadn't won, Bax thinks racing would have been in trouble.