(CN) – A California appeals court revived a lawsuit brought by a race-horse owner who claimed a steward forced his horse to race against his wishes, causing the thoroughbred to injure her front foot and become lame.
The 2nd District Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment for George Slender, a racing steward of 33 years, who allegedly forced owner Jerry Jamgotchian to keep his horse, John’s Kinda Girl, in a race at the Del Mar Race Track in southern California.
Jamgotchian wanted his horse withdrawn so he could enter her in a stakes race in Seattle.
However, Slender allegedly ordered California Horse Racing Board investigators and racetrack security staff to prevent Jamgotchian from retrieving his horse before the race.
Under racing regulations, owners who seek to remove their horses after the deadline for withdrawal, or “scratch time,” must get the permission of a racing steward. But Jamgotchian said Slender refused to honor his request for withdrawal and forced the horse to run.
The owner sued the steward for trespass to chattel.
Slender said he was entitled to immunity, because he had simply been exercising his authority under horse-racing regulations.
The lower courts sided with Slender, but the appellate court reversed, saying the steward may have overstepped his authority.
John’s Kinda Girl’s trainer testified that Slender had ordered him to saddle and race the horse, telling him, “We are not going to allow any horse owner to control our multi-million-dollar business. You’re obligated to run. If you do not race the horse, you are … being threatened with a 60-day suspension of your license.”
Justice Kriegler said Slender was authorized to remove John’s Kinda Girl from the race and discipline the owner for his late withdrawal, rather than force the horse to run.
“There is no discretion vested in the stewards to bar an owner from retrieving his or her horse before the race is run,” Kriegler wrote. “Had Jamgotchian been permitted to retrieve (John’s Kinda Girl), the horse would not have been raced and injured.”