Does Freedom of Speech Pertain to Horsemen?

There’s an interesting situation in South Florida, where a horseman who’s also an aspiring writer has been barred from a racetrack because his presence is considered “detrimental to the best interest of racing.”

Does “detrimental to the best interest of racing” sound familiar?

The latest case involves 40-year-old Terry Cullipher, who trains and drives Standardbreds and also has a couple of Web sites designed to educate horsemen on what’s happening in racing in Kentucky and Florida. Cullipher has a caustic sense of humor and has questioned and criticized the actions of racetracks and horsemen’s groups.

He was barred from Isle Casino Racing at Pompano Park March 4. The order calls the “barrment” permanent but doesn’t give a reason. A March 4 letter to Cullipher from director of racing John Yinger, however, states the horseman’s “continued participation would be detrimental to the best interest of the racing program here and more adversely the Isle of Capri Casinos Inc.,” which operates slot machines at Pompano and other facilities in the United States.

Cullipher is eligible to apply for reinstatement for the 2010-11 racing season that begins in the fall.

UPDATE, in the interest of fairness: Late the afternoon of March 17, Cullipher contacted The Blood-Horse to say he was told a few hours earlier his two-week ejection had been lifted. He said he had pleasant conversation with Yinger, who had called him to say he was "fully exonerated" and that the ejection wouldn't be on his record as a horseman.

Cullipher has taken numerous shots at racing’s hierarchy on and His latest column questions why Florida harness horsemen and Isle of Capri have no contact for purses at Pompano.

He compares Yinger to “Uncle Bobby,” who is Robert Stewart, president of the Kentucky Harness Horsemen’s Association and one of his regular targets. In a packet of documents mailed to regulators and various media outlets, Cullipher includes a copy of a March 4 e-mail from Yinger that says: “You will soon notice there is one distinct advantage I have over Uncle Bobby,” an apparent reference to the power of exclusion.

(Editor’s note: I’ve known Terry Cullipher for years and occasionally contribute commentaries on harness racing in Kentucky to his Web site. Cullipher has attempted to get horsemen to fight for better revenue deals with racetracks—they don’t get a set percentage from advance deposit wagering at The Red Mile in Lexington, for example—and also offered to assist with “guerrilla marketing” to build on-track business at The Red Mile, only to be rebuffed by management.)

Cullipher claims his First Amendment rights have been violated and that he has done nothing wrong.

“I make a living racing horses,” Cullipher said in a letter. “I am also a reporter/journalist. I understand that the Isle of Capri Casino Pompano Park can exclude anyone from its property. But what I don’t understand, and what I have a major concern with, is this—I haven’t done anything wrong. I have followed the rules of racing.

“However, I do believe there is proof of a reason, and it is crystal clear--because I write a column (a comical column that is based on truth), and for exercising my First Amendment right (of) freedom of speech.”

In early February, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission ejected Thoroughbred owner Michael Gill and his trainer, Anthony Adamo, from Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course for disrupting the regular conduct of horse racing. Adamo has since been reinstated; neither was charged with anything.

There is an ongoing PHRC investigation, as well as a local grand jury probe that may or may not involve Gill, who is said to have reduced his stable from close to 200 horses to about 10. As of now, at least, it appears his “crime” was sucking $3 million out of the Penn National purse pool last year to the detriment of the locals.

And then there’s the ongoing case in West Virginia involving three horsemen barred from Charles Town Races & Slots several years ago. This one has numerous legal twists with a high court ruling expected this year on whether the West Virginia Racing Commission can conduct hearings into the exclusions.

Two of the barred individuals—Dick and Janene Watson—were kicked out for “integrity” reasons; they allegedly misused horsemen’s funds but were never charged in a case that ended in a settlement. They did nothing to impact racing operations at Charles Town—except by opening their mouths when they headed the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Honestly, don’t the people in power in this industry have better things to worry about—like dealing with real integrity issues and trying to rebuild the business? And who said criticism, constructive or otherwise, is a crime?

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