Seven jockeys are banned from Tampa Bay Downs

Three former riding champions are among those refused access to the track.

Published December 20, 2006

OLDSMAR - Three former Tampa Bay Downs riding champions were among seven jockeys banned immediately at the Downs on Tuesday afternoon in a move that caught many by surprise.

Those barred by Downs management are: Terry (T.D.) Houghton, Downs leading rider in 1998-99 and 1999-2000; ex-champions Joseph Judice (2002-03) and Derek Bell (2000-01); Jorge Bracho; Luis Castillo; Jose Delgado and Ricardo Valdes.

"Effective immediately, Tampa Bay Downs has refused (riders) access to the racetrack for an indefinite period of time based on its rights as a private property owner," Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube said in a statement. "This action is being taken as a result of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. Tampa Bay Downs is fully cooperating with this investigation and has no further comment on the matter at this time."

According to its Web site, the TRPB is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America, which operates as a national investigative agency in the horse-racing industry. Its mandate is to expose and investigate all activity prejudicial to horse racing and to maintain public confidence in the sport of both thoroughbred and standardbred racing.

Downs spokeswoman Margo Flynn said the seven jockeys could compete at other tracks "dependent on local jurisdiction."

Houghton's agent, Herson Sanchez, said he doesn't know what led to the ban.

"The first I heard about this was right before the races, when another agent told me his rider was told to leave the grounds," Sanchez said. "I talked to Terry briefly, and he told me he was told to get his tack out. He was obviously taken aback and didn't want to talk at the moment."

The action is similar to the one taken at Calder Race Course in Miami, where track management barred rider Rene Douglas on Friday. No reason was provided by Calder president Ken Dunn other than to say the track had employed its right as a private property owner to bar the jockey from the premises, according to Bloodhorse.com.

None of the banned riders could be reached by the Times. Delgado told the Daily Racing Form on Tuesday that TRPB agents had interviewed him recently at the track.

"They kept asking me if I knew this person or that person," Delgado said. "I didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't know anyone they asked me about."

Bob Jeffries, president of the Tampa Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said this is the first such investigation he has been involved with in 33 years in the business.

"The racetrack is making sure things are on the up and up and everything is level," Jeffries said. "If something is going on, which we don't know, we don't need those kinds of people in our business.

"But everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and I'm behind every rider 100 percent right now. I've used Houghton, Judice and Bell on my horses before, and I had no problems with them. They ran the horses as fast as they would go."

Sanchez said there's more at stake than the suspended riders missing a paycheck.

"Their livelihoods and reputations are at stake," he said.