A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by eight horsemen against Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural for banning them from his three tracks due to their association with an accused doper of racehorses.
The case was dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning that the plaintiffs can file another suit if, for instance, new evidence is uncovered to bolster their claims.
On March 6, 2021, Gural announced that anyone who had horses stabled in Florida in the care of accused — but not convicted — horseman Rene Allard would be banned from the Meadowlands and from Gural’s Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs tracks in upstate New York.
Kapildeo Singh, Lawrence Dumain, Ira Wallach, Brian Wallach, Yves Sarrazin, Erlin Hill, Bruce Soulsby, and Alan Weisenberg were the plaintiffs.
Sarrazin owned 60% of When Dovescry, the 2019 winner of the Hambletonian Oaks, the sport’s most prestigious race for 3-year-old female trotters. Singh, Dumain, and Soulsby each owned 10% shares, according to the suit filed in August.
The announcement by Gural in March also dictated that anyone currently in a partnership with the so-called “Eight Men Out” who did not divest themselves of their partnership interest within nine days would also be excluded for the same period of time.
An unwanted ‘fire sale’
In claiming harm from Gural’s threat, the horsemen asserted in a filing last month: “Thus, parties rushed to breach their partnership agreements with Plaintiffs and sell their interests so that they would not also become subject to Defendants’ ban from the premier track in all of harness racing and two other important racetracks.
“Defendants executed this group boycott against Plaintiffs even though Plaintiffs had no pending disciplinary action in any jurisdiction or any other action taken against their licenses. Moreover, Defendants did not enforce this ban equally” — with one owner alleged to have a “financial partnership” with Gural escaping the ban.
But Gural’s attorneys focused on the fact that the case was based on federal antitrust standards that did not apply to his actions.
“Plaintiffs allege speculative harm to themselves — lost potential resale value of their horses, lost earnings from races they may or may not have entered that they may or may not have won, etc.,” the defense attorneys wrote.
“Missing from their complaint is any allegation of harm to competition by the alleged anti-competitive conduct. Taken at face value, Defendants’ alleged conduct drove Plaintiffs to competing racetracks. That is not an antitrust injury, and that defeats standing.”
Federal doping investigation started it all
The roots of the dispute stem from a March 2020 indictment of dozens of horse racing industry figures, including Allard, following a massive undercover and wiretapping operation funded by Gural — perhaps the leading anti-doping figure in all of horse racing.
The indictment included accusations that horses under Allard’s control had died after receiving adulterated and misbranded drugs.
Per the complaint, a barn raid on March 9, 2020, in Middletown, N.Y., where Allard stabled a number of horses, led to the discovery of multiple syringes and numerous bottles of mislabeled drugs.
The accusation by the horsemen of a “group boycott” against them is without merit, Gural’s attorneys wrote in their most recent filing.
“There are no allegations that Mr. Gural conspired with other horse owners to prevent them from doing business with Plaintiffs as a way to suppress competition for the resale of horses,” the filing read. “Similarly, there are no allegations that the Tracks colluded with other unrelated racetracks to prevent Plaintiffs from racing at those other tracks.”
The horsemen alleged that Gural, who owns several horses, had financial motives for excluding them. Gural, 79, is an extremely wealthy real estate mogul in the greater New York City region with extensive holdings in Manhattan.
“To the extent that Plaintiffs characterized Mr. Gural’s alleged conduct as reducing competition for his own benefit, their theory is implausible,” Gural’s attorneys wrote.
In a statement issued after the judge’s ruling, Gural said: “This lawsuit and its outcome have only reinforced my resolve to purge PEDs from our industry — even if it means defending baseless lawsuits like this, or initiating my own legal actions against those who pose obstacles to our efforts. Our industry requires, in my view, owners to be beyond reproach and held accountable for the training decisions they make.”