Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural has emerged over the past decade as a leader of an effort to eradicate doping from the sport of harness racing. And while others can only decry the illegal practice, Gural has done far more, for years banning horsemen he has concluded are “dirty.”
But last week, eight men filed a lawsuit in New York’s Northern District Court, alleging that Gural’s “boycott” of the horsemen is being done in their cases to allow him to gain competitive advantage for his own horses.
“[Gural] owns an interest in a number of horses that he races at Tioga, Vernon and/or The Meadowlands,” according to the lawsuit. “Indeed, Gural maintains a stable of horses that he races at The Meadowlands.”
Kapildeo Singh, Lawrence Dumain, Ira Wallach, Brian Wallach, Yves Sarrazin, Erlin Hill, Bruce Soulsby, and Alan Weisenberg are the plaintiffs. Sarrazin owned 60% of When Dovescry, the 2019 winner of the Hambletonian Oaks, the sport’s most prestigious and lucrative race for 3-year-old female trotters. Singh, Dumain, and Soulsby each owned 10% shares, according to the suit. The men assert that they intended to race When Dovescry — who has earned more than $1 million in purse money — at the Meadowlands this year, as well as at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, two upstate tracks also owned by Gural.
Collateral damage in federal sting?
The horse racing world was shaken by scandal in March 2020, when 27 men and women were indicted in an extensive horse racing doping scheme. The following week, Rene Allard, at the time the second-leading trainer at Yonkers Raceway, was indicted in the same scheme, along with several others. The complaint against Allard, who trained When Dovescry in 2019, alleges that “horses under Allard’s control had died after receiving adulterated and misbranded drugs.”
In 2019, Allard is alleged to have sent a text to a co-conspirator seeking “red acid,” a performing-enhancing drug well known in the industry for reducing inflammation in joints.
“Allard has been permitted to continue working with horses at a stable in Florida, as long as the horses are not intended to participate in races,” according to the indictment.
“Gural seized on the situation involving Allard stabling horses in Florida to reduce Gural’s competition by excluding Plaintiffs and others from competing in races at Tioga, Vernon and The Meadowlands. Plaintiffs had no intention of racing any of their horses stabled by Allard, and instead only intended to race those horses who were trained by other trainers.”
The broad ban by Gural regarding Allard-affiliated horsemen — which was instituted in March 2021 — was not equally enforced, the plaintiffs allege, saying that other horsemen have been able to race at Gural’s tracks even though their circumstances regarding Allard mirror that of the plaintiffs’.
But Gural said at the time of the ban, “To learn that people actually give [Allard] horses to train after what was discovered by the federal investigation boggles the mind. The only reason I do this [ban] is to clean up racing so we might have a future and to protect the guys that do try to follow the rules.”
More alleged harm to plaintiffs
The horsemen add that they were forced to sell many of their racehorses at “below market value” because horsemen not impacted by the ban did not want to have any of the plaintiffs as partners.
“To participate as viable owners in the harness racing industry, Plaintiffs need to have the ability to stable and train their horses, qualify their horses in sanctioned qualifying races, and have the ability to enter in races throughout the New York and New Jersey region,” the lawsuit states
One of the horses quickly sold five months ago was Springsteen, a 6-year-old son of Rock and Roll Heaven, who went for six figures.
Gural has not been shy about banning numerous horsemen suspected of doping and other illegal practices for years before the 2020 scandal, with many horsemen applauding his activism — Gural says he spent about $1 million bankrolling investigations — and others decrying it. In 2016, Gural even gave a lifetime ban to Standardbred Owners Association of New York President Joseph Faraldo at his two New York tracks for letting suspected doper Richard Banca train two of his horses.
Faraldo replied at the time that “Mr. Gural has placed himself as judge and jury over people’s rights in this game and has done so in a very hypocritical fashion.”
Banca was among the trainers named in the massive March 2020 set of indictments. He and Allard have pled not guilty, although legendary Monmouth Park thoroughbred trainer Jorge Navarro and others have changed their pleas to guilty.
“It’s a little discouraging that when you’re trying to clean up the drug problem, we now have to hire an expensive lawyer to defend us against this lawsuit, which essentially calls me dishonest,” Gural said in a statement on Monday. “Worse yet, we get no cooperation from the horsemen who love to complain about the drugs but don’t lift a finger to help us catch the perpetrators. The lawsuit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against these allegations and look forward to being vindicated in court.”
Photo: Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com