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Some Clarity, Please, on N.Y.’s Horse Semen Rule

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (CN) - Vague rules for shipping horse semen unfairly disqualified foals from New York's harness-racing program, a breeder claims in court.

The controversy stems from training the stallion Celebrity Maserati underwent in Florida after enduring the harsh 2015 winter at its usual residence, Celebrity Farms in Goshen.

Sam Stathis, managing member of Celebrity Farms, sent the horse south under the impression that the move would not affect its standing as a registered stallion with the New York Sire Stakes.

The program, a collaboration of the state, harness-horse breeders and harness racetracks, contributes money to purses at the tracks that are targeted at state-bred horses.

While Celebrity Maserati was in Florida, his semen was collected and sent back to New York to impregnate Stathis mares boarded at a breeding farm near Middletown, not far from Celebrity Farms.

"All mares inseminated with Celebrity Maserati's semen were boarded within the state of New York at all times, including the moment in which Celebrity Maserati foals were conceived," the farm contends in a Jan. 29 complaint, ticking off elements of eligibility for the Sire Stakes.

Nevertheless the Agriculture and New York Horse Breeding Development Fund informed the farm this past March that the foals were ineligible for the program.

In support of the disqualification, the fund said its rules provide that "the foal of any mare inseminated by semen transported outside the state of New York ... will not be eligible for nomination to any New York-bred events," according to the complaint in Schenectady County Supreme Court.

Celebrity Farms says the rules were explained differently to Stathis. They understood the rule to say "a New York stallion's semen could not be (a) 'collected in New York,' and then (b) 'transported outside the state of New York,' where it would then be used to (c) 'inseminate a mare outside of New York,'" according to the complaint.

The latter explanation is also more consistent with the state goal of promoting horse breeding in New York, Stathis says.

Regulators informed all mare owners in May that "any offspring produced from matings in 2015" with Celebrity Maserati or Celebrity Secret, another Stathis stallion, "will not be New York Sire Stakes eligible," according to the complaint.

Stathis says he asked the fund to reconsider and reverse its decision but never heard back.

New York lawmakers created the fund in 1965 as a public benefit corporation within the state harness-racing commission, now part of the New York State Gaming Commission, which is based in the city of Schenectady.

The Gaming Commission says the fund "fosters agriculture through the promotion of standardbred horse breeding and [the] conduct of equine research."

Funded by the handle at licensed tracks, off-track betting corporations and video gaming machines at harness tracks, the fund enhances the purses for Sire Stakes races for 2- and 3-year-olds bred in New York.

Stallions eligible for the program must be owned by a resident of New York and must stand "the entire stud season in New York State," the complaint states, citing state pari-mutuel wagering and breeding law.

Registered stallions cannot be moved from their designated farm except by permission of the fund, which Stathis says he received in 2014 to take Celebrity Maserati and Celebrity Secret outside New York during breeding season. He says he submitted a written request, paid a registration fee and tendered $5,000 to do so.

In 2015 he sought the same permission to take Celebrity Maserati to Florida. An employee of Celebrity Farms called the fund on March 20 with the request, and was told it was granted, "so long as petitioner memorialized its request and enclosed a check for $5,000, which was completed," the complaint states.

In April, the fund returned the check with a letter claiming permission for the Florida trip could not be granted "since Celebrity Maserati was already out of state at the time of the request."

Stathis says he quickly returned the horse to New York to maintain continued eligibility in the Sire Stakes.

"Petitioner never intended to, and never actually did, use Celebrity Maserati's semen to impregnate a mare outside the state of New York at any time during 2015," the complaint states. "All mares impregnated with Celebrity Maserati's semen were within the state of New York at all times during the breeding season."

The complaint contends the Sire Stakes rules "are impermissibly vague and ambiguous with respect to the transportation of stallions and semen 'outside the state' and the procedure, construction and timeline for submitting and approving requests for said transportation."

Stathis asks the court to find the rules arbitrary and capricious and to reverse the eligibility decision on the Celebrity Maserati foals. He also seeks unspecified damages and attorney's fees.

Angelo Langadakis of Manhattan represents Celebrity Farms.

A spokesman for the state Gaming Commission has not returned an email seeking comment on the complaint.

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