PA Pony Roundup: Suspended Trainer Back on Track for Now, Late Mobster Fixed Races in PA

Written By Kevin Shelly on August 4, 2021
PA horse racing updates for August 2021.

Presque Isle Downs just returned to racing at the beginning of July, the last of Pennsylvania’s horse tracks to start its meet. And that meant a return to enforcement after a long layoff due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Tom Chuckas, the director of Thoroughbred Horse Racing for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, announced at the July 26 meeting of the state’s Horse Racing Commission that the staff took enforcement actions at the Erie track on July 4 and July 5.

In making the announcement, Chuckas said he was attempting to set the record straight about past comments where he appeared to have minimized enforcement actions, including with the suspension of Richard Vega, a well-known trainer based at Parx Racing.

A trainer at the Presque Isle allegedly was found in possession of expired and mislabeled meds and syringes, Chuckas told the commission.

He also said his staff made a referral to the Pennsylvania State Police regarding someone at the track possessing drugs used by humans. A state police spokesperson said he had no information on the matter.

Chuckas also told the commission the trainer was suspended.

The suspension term was 60 days, according to paperwork supplied to PlayPennsylvania by the state. The term of the suspension was to be from July 30 to Sept. 27.

Chuckas did not name the trainer. However, the industry publication Blood Horse identified the trainer as Cassandra Judd.

Suspended trainer back to racing already

PlayPennsylvania independently confirmed Judd’s identity and spoke with her on Aug. 2, via phone. Judd said she is currently racing.

During the phone interview, the Kentucky resident, who has worked as a vet assistant and as an administrator with a breeding operation, said she was reinstated to run before Chuckas made his July 27 announcement to the Racing Commission last week.

Judd is indeed racing. She had a maiden claiming race set for Aug. 2 with Gucci Gal, a horse with 6/1 odds. The horse placed second.

Contradicting Judd’s timeline, a spokesperson for the racing commission said Judd’s appeal was granted on July 28 following a request made the day before, on July 27.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Press Secretary Shannon Powers added:

“She is granted due process and is able to continue to race until a hearing is held on the merits of her appeal.”

There is no word on a final decision date. The next commission meeting is on Aug. 31.

Presque Isle Downs, a Churchill Downs-owned track, has a 52-day meet.

Downs trainer tops 4,000 racing wins

Trainer Mark Ford had his 4,000th win of his training career at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono when He’s Electric won on July 31.

The 51-year-old Ford, a native of New York state, ranks seventh on the trotters list of all-time trainers. His $66.7 million in lifetime earnings puts him in fifth.

New Jersey to start fixed-odds horse racing, no plans for PA

New Jersey is trying something innovative to address the decline of interest in betting or races – fixed-rate odds.

On the other hand, Pennsylvania has no such plans, which would need legislation. Betting on horses in PA is done via pari-mutuel wagers.

PlayNJ reports:

Fixed-odds betting would revolutionize horseplaying, bringing it to include the more common method of wagering (such as is with professional and college sports) where bettors place bets at the odds posted and hold those odds for the race.

There’s been no public discussion of trying fixed odds in PA.

North Carolina, Oregon, Ohio, Colorado, and Oklahoma are all working on adopting fixed-odds horse betting.

Infamous criminal fixed races at PA & NJ racecourses, FBI files show

The late James “Whitey” Bulger, a Boston-area organized crime figure known for loansharking, bookmaking, truck hijacking, arms trafficking, extortion, and multiple murders, as well as serving as a snitch for the FBI, also fixed horse races decades ago.

A recent expose in the Boston Herald based on recently released FBI files included fixing horse races – including a PA harness track now attached to a casino and two defunct New Jersey tracks. The tracks named in the files were Pocono Downs and the shuttered Garden State and Atlantic City racecourses in New Jersey.

The files show mobsters, along with Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang, operated a national horse-racing scheme. They bribed jockeys and doped horses to guarantee that bets made by mobsters would all pay off.

Boston Herald reported jockeys in on the fix doped or held back. There’s even a sidebar on how to fix a horse race.

Fellow inmates beat Bulger to death while in federal custody on October 29, 2018.

The track opened in 1965. Penn National Gaming bought the harness track in 1997.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority of Connecticut bought the track in January 2005 and built an adjoining casino, Mohegan Sun Pocono.

Parx Racing scheduled August shutdown

Horse racing at Parx traditionally takes a breather in August. The track will not host races from Aug. 9 to Aug. 18. Racing resumes Aug. 23.

Lead photo of races at Penn National Race Course taken by Katie Kohler.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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