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?


Leave a Comment:


Critical analysis, honesty, and integrity should not be a criminal act, nor should censorship be endorsed by any local or national organization. It's pitiful to watch this keep happening. It tells us simply that horsemen are not allowed to be critical observers, nor are they allowed to speak out when they find conditions abhorrent to their sensibilities. Several weeks ago, a racing reporter wrote a glowing tribute to the track vet at the Fair Grounds. Last weekend, in the 9th race, #2 Poochiewoochie, in the post parade, was acting up, then reared up, and fell over backwards on top of the jockey. Both were OK???  In less than 2 minutes both horse and jockey were in the starting gate and halfway down the track, taking over the lead. I have to question where was that vet, and how did she have any time to check out the horse? At any other racetrack, Poochiwoochie (dumb name) would have been scratched. I have to question why any honest journalist would let that slip by him, and only note that the horse just "acted up" in the post parade. What we need is more journalistic integrity, not less. Censorship is a cruel bane to any writer. I would not condone personal attacks as being protected by the constitution, but I would find that banning someone from his livelihood due to honest observations made while engaging in the pursuit of his career is indeed unconstitutional.

17 Mar 2010 10:28 AM

Shame on the big boys, all persons, on the face of this earth, deserve "the right" to say what they think..which in America is a "God Given Right" because our country is founded by such persons that gave us our God-based rights.....Be it good or evil...Tell the truth, and shame the devil....

17 Mar 2010 10:29 AM
Karen in Indiana

I live in Indiana now, but grew up on the gulf coast and was there when casinos started coming into Mississippi. Isle of Capri was one of those. When the local TV station started reporting how the crime rate had gone up and about all the mom & pop restaurants that were going out of business because they couldn't compete, the casinos started a consortium, bought the TV station and that negative news disappeared. That's not being a good neighbor. And yes, you can write about all the good the casinos bringing in higher tax revenues did and that's true. But they also should have dealt with the negatives instead of buying the news outlet and then burying news they didn't like. That ain't right.

17 Mar 2010 12:09 PM
Gina Powell

Providing a comment or constructive criticism is protected under our constitution. I only hope that somebody someday challenges these commissions or racetracks who refuse entry to people whom are merely insightful, intelligent, and a breath of fresh air.

17 Mar 2010 1:12 PM
needler in Virginia

One has to believe that if they are shooting at you, you MUST be doing something right. Oherwise, you would be just another blowhard  It certainly sounds like the powers that be would LOVE to shut these guys down, but sadly for them, that is not gonna happen! Good for Mr. Cullipher and Mr. LaMarra and all those who want to shine a bright light into dark corners!!

Cheers and safe trips.

17 Mar 2010 1:20 PM

Plain and simple,  you must keep your mouth shut to keep your stalls. Have you ever read a stall application at a private racetrack? You basically sign your life and any rights away. The best example that I have ever seen is Delaware Park.  If you piss off Rickman or he even thinks you have done something wrong, your stalls are revoked. The Delaware Park stall application is available on the track website. If your are not a horseman, this is required reading.  

17 Mar 2010 2:13 PM

Freedom of Speech only applies when you have nothing to lose.

17 Mar 2010 2:15 PM

This is another example of why you need "one" main head/commissioner to handle these type of issues/grievances.Each racing entity can have its own set of rules/interpretations apart from another racing establishment. Any other sport you get to have a hearing where both sides present their case before league officials.

Why do we keep digging a bigger hole at every opportunity? Every time we take one step forward it seems we find a way to take two steps back.

17 Mar 2010 2:22 PM

Gary: I'd say freedom of speech was a right guaranteed in a constitution written by men who risked everything if they lost.....just ask Patrick Henry.

17 Mar 2010 3:01 PM
Julio Trevino

I'm so called from a third world country and I could understand if this was going on there. NOT AMERICA THE HOME OF THE FREE.  

17 Mar 2010 3:28 PM
Sandra Warren

People do seem to forget that usually a racetrack is private property. If it was your property, you allowed someone to come onto it in order to make their living, and that person spent a lot of his time bashing you on a forum where millions of people can read it without any balance from you, might not you be inclined to take away that person's privileges and allow in someone else who is a bit more biddable? Ideally, racetrack management ought to read the complaints, think about them carefully, adopt changes or post on this fellow's forum why they think he is wrong. But who has time to refute every horseman's gripe? I've hardly ever met a horseman who wasn't mad abut something. If I attend any horsemen's meeting, right away men get up and start yelling and pointing. They come in mad. For people who work outdoors with noble animals, we are the most unhappy bunch of whiny complainers I've ever seen. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  This man should try visiting the office with a constructive criticism and a smile, rather than unloading impotently on his little blog.

17 Mar 2010 3:50 PM

Good grief! I wish people would actually read the 1st amendment. Freedom of speech means your speech is protected from government persecution, meant to allow discussion and criticism of the government, without fear of retribution. It does not mean a private company or institution doesn't have the right to ban you from their company because they didn't like something you said. They're not violating your freedom of speech merely exercising their own. Example, if the editors at the don't like something I wrote not only do they have the right to not post what I said, they can IP ban me. My freedom of speech was not violated. If I call my company's customers rude names, the company has every right to fire me over my speech. If you don't like something someone said in your home, you have every right to kick them out and ban them from your home. No where in 1st amendment does it say or imply that when you enter an establishment you're free to NOT abide by the terms of the owner(s).

This is the problem with America today, too many people always talking about this or that and don't have the slightest clue what they're talking about.

17 Mar 2010 4:27 PM

But the real issue is that these companies are not truly private. Every aspect of the gambling industry and horse racing is subsidized by public money or tax breaks for the industry in order to prop up the farming aspect of the horse industry or other "indirect" aid.

I believe that the track has a right to ban people but I also believe that when they do, all real estate tax breaks, income tax breaks, and subsidies should be immediately revoked by the government.

17 Mar 2010 7:33 PM
Racing Fan

Charles Town is one of the worst. Horsemen live in constant fear if they say or do anything that makes the business look bad, you can kiss your stalls goodbye. That includes safety issues. Everyone is afraid to 'rock the boat' even if it could save equine or human lives.

17 Mar 2010 7:34 PM
Sandra Warren

I'm sorry, Edward, but in CA, horse racing is not subsidized by government. It is the other way around. Horse racing for many years provided 3% of the entire budget for the state of CA, until they started making a budget so big that no track could sustain its contribution at 3%, despite an increase in handle. And the breeding industry incentives in CA are funded by the handle, not by the state taxpayers.

17 Mar 2010 7:46 PM

Casinos/racetracks are Licensed by the state. They are also government-regulated.They also hold a liquor license. As they may be privately-owned companies, they are open to the public.

17 Mar 2010 8:25 PM

and yet pompano let's the criminals rig races nightly.

17 Mar 2010 9:24 PM

Every organization or individual have their "POSITIVE" and "NEGATIVE" qualities which the press and free-lance writers occassionally portray in articles, blogs or magazines. "FREE PRESS and BLOGGING" is very essential for a healthy society and in case of any "LIBEL" the individual or organization can drag the press or free-lance writer to "COURT" rather than "BAN" them from their premises.

17 Mar 2010 10:02 PM
ned wilson

Edward is correct in his statement. Pompano Park can ban any person they want as a private company. But since they have been granted a monopoly by the state of Florida, it violates federal anti- trust law. If Mr. Cullipher would be allowed to build a casino and racetrack next door to Pompano, they could retain that private property right. Instead they act as a harness monopoly in Broward county, protected by the state. They therefore forfeit the right to pick and chose which residents of Florida can earn a living at their dictators' discretion.

18 Mar 2010 1:39 AM
Gina Powell

Since the racetracks have some form of government subsidy then that qualifies for a "government-operated business," and therefore they are subject to the laws of the land. Furthermore, one would have to ask "why" many people are speaking out about the stable area and how trainers get banned, intimidated, or intentionally blocked because they are outspoken. "What are they trying to hide?" Futhermore, they take money from the general public for wagering and must be held accountable to even a minimum standard. However, the rules seem to apply to some trainers and not to others. For example, I was told that I could only have 1 two-year-old per every 4 horses I stabled. Yet, big name trainers ship in 30, 40 and more two-year-olds every year and then everybody calls them a genius because they make it to the Triple Crown trail. Well if I had the same shot at it, I would be a big name trainer too. There is far too much discrimination going on in this industr,y and one day it is going to kick them in the butt.

18 Mar 2010 7:49 AM

Edward: ditto

18 Mar 2010 7:56 AM

I for one am sick of rac tracks pulling out the private property card. A certain track treated local horsemen great while they needed them to vote for slots. Now that they have them, management has made difficult for most locals to make a living due to their loss of stalls. And,by no means should you buck the system, so to speak. As far as integrity, start with the rules of racing. Who really enforces these rules? Management or the racing commission?

18 Mar 2010 8:54 AM

I think Chris makes a great point.

The government gets a share of the take, and they regulate the industry, but general access to the tracks is solely controlled by their operators.

There are ways to to provide ideas for the betterment of the industry through constructive criticism, without the cynicism and personal attacks many bloggers use in their articles.

18 Mar 2010 10:49 AM

Chris, I believe Edward's assessment is correct. Additionally, freedom of the Press in involved, and a web site is a publication and is protected under the first amendment with exclusions for any malicious intent. Beyond that there is "whistleblower" protection.

"For example, in the United States, most whistleblower protection laws provide for limited "make whole" remedies or damages for employment losses if whistleblower retaliation is proven."  It would appear that Mr Cullipher has two strong legs to stand on within the law.

18 Mar 2010 11:50 AM
Ann in Lexington

Remember a couple of years ago when Tampa barred a dozen or so riders (jocks and exercise variety) because they were being investigated for being 'involved' with questionable races in Michigan? Well, only one or two ended up being charged but the innocent riders are still dealing with the fallout from being barred by Tampa. They were tarred with the race-fixer label, despite no charges ever being filed against them or any evidence acvanced. That kind of power can destroy people's careers and should be wielded most judiciously, not from personal pique.

18 Mar 2010 11:56 AM

Oy vey! I guess I should tell my father the software company he founded a couple of years ago is not a privately held company owned by him but the state of South Carolina because a small portion of his capital was from a small business loan from one of the economic programs the state offers. I'm sure his 50-60 employees will be thrilled to know they are government workers and thus are qualified for all the benefits government workers receive.

Receiving a government grant or subsidy or tax break or whatever doesn't mean your company is suddenly no longer privately held. Grants/subsidies/tax breaks have been specifically designed to encourage economic development for businesses especially for entrepreneurs like my father who start small business. Federal, state and local governments offer a wide range of financing programs to help businesses and grow their operations because the economic growth of the country is a good thing. These programs include low-interest loans, venture capital, and scientific and economic development grants.

The fact is when you think about what it means to run a business on a daily basis the government does not want nor does it intend to run/take over every business it gave a grant/subsidy/tax break to.

You have to be pretty large and screwed up something powerful a la AIG and others before the government takes over.

18 Mar 2010 1:59 PM


When somebody holds the power over somebody else, like a job, a business, your house, your kids, and so on and so on. They overhear them say something they don't like and they take away those things because of what they said, well you call Patrick Henry and tell him to bring the Constitution because there is nothing they can do about it. That stuff happens all the time.

I agree with what you said and that is the way it is supposed to work, but there are no guarantees in life Bud

18 Mar 2010 9:22 PM

I think Mr Culipher is leaving part out in his story as I was told via telephone conversation with highers in Florida. He has a tendency to explore and push things over the edge until he does it to the wrong person like he has done here and in the past.

18 Mar 2010 10:40 PM

Slew, the point is this horsemen's freedom of speech was not violated. Maybe I missed the part where he was jailed by the government, his site is taken down, etc. The fact that he's out and about complaining to anyone who will listen about a violation of his right of freedom of speech (as poorly as he understands it) is a clear indication that his freedom of speech is well in tact.

And if he has proof of wrongdoing by Florida's racing hierarchy why hasn't he taken it to law enforcement? Having a blog and critiques does not make one a whistleblower.

19 Mar 2010 1:30 AM

Gary, I'm sorry, but it does work that way. Sort of "been there, done that." As long as you're willing to risk it, the system does work, even in private corporations. So if you're too timid to speak out against injustice, you then become part of that injustice. From Edmund Burke we heard, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing."  I've been around a very long time, and it's too true. I've been a "squeaky wheel" for most of my life. But I have also studied all of my options before I speak. I've also made it a point to back up what I say with proof. I've never been fired from a job because I complained. If no resolution is in sight over a complaint, you take it higher up. There are so many state and federal agencies out there actually willing to help...all you have to do is find them, and contact them. I don't know the specifics of Mr. Cullipher's situation, so it is not really my place to comment on his resources, but it's fair to assume that he does have options, and he should vigorously pursue them.

19 Mar 2010 10:32 AM

Mr. Cullipher has zero legal standing for a 1st Amendment violation. As others stated, only the government can violate your 1st Amendment rights.      

Holding a liquor license, being government regulated (most industries are government regulated), getting tax advantages and getting government subsidies does not make you a government entity. By legal definition, government entities are bodies that can impose taxes and make laws. Racetracks do not make laws and do not have the authority to impose taxes.

If anybody here tried to bring suit against a race track for a 1st Amendment violation your case would be dismissed at the first hearing, unless the racetrack's lawyer was grossly incompetent to the extremes.  

19 Mar 2010 1:52 PM

Congratulations to the Isle of Capri for having reinstated Terry Cullipher.  

What a batch of good comments……Now, try walking in my shoes? I am the ‘Lady’ that Mr. Cullipher mentioned in his blog and I quote “A few years ago in West Virginia a lady horseman and her husband, were excluded from the property of racetrack and casino for “NO REASON.” But she was part of an active group that opposed games at Charles Town” (Note: hH left out the property which was the Charles Town Races & Slots owned and operated by Penn National Gaming.) I did not oppose table games; I just opposed the way the bill was written. I was not a part of a group. I was one person with nothing more to lose, fighting for the CT horsemen who are afraid to fight for themselves any more.

I have been an owner, trainer and breeder of thoroughbred horses for over 40 years of which 25 years at Charles Town with NO WVRC adverse rulings against me. I am an active permit holder and I was given a letter that said I was being excluded from the grounds, going on almost 5 years ago, (an eternity when you are not allowed to earn a living). The reason given was for “No Reason.” They have put me out of business; I was forced to sell my farm that I had paid for, just to buy feed and hay. I can’t give my 16 horses away, because people can’t get stalls and are afraid to run our horses because the track might not like it.

Racing Fan says it all…..Charles Town is one of the worst. Horsemen live in constant fear if they say or do anything that makes the business look bad, you can kiss your stalls goodbye. That includes safety issues. Everyone is afraid to 'rock the boat' even if it could save equine or human lives.

I personally worked with the track on many issues, from buying and installing blinds in the steward’s office, to weed eating around all the barns, bought and hung a finish line sign with the racetrack logo on one corner and the CTHBPA on the other corner. I even rented and drove a 6 passenger people mover picking up customers from their cars and delivering them to the front door of the track  I had sponsor signs hung on the track walls for live TV. I could go on and on. But the bottom line is that my husband and I represented the horsemen for a dozen years until 2003. We traveled the country putting Charles Town on the map and were given a resolution recognizing our accomplishments, by the National HBPA. We were made Honorary members of the CTHBPA in 2008. My Honorary membership was rescinded in Dec 2009 at the first meeting of the CTHBPA by 6 members of the newly elected board with 4 of them being brand new and 4 of them having campaigned for the racetrack on table games.

The person that was seen in TV ads made the motion. She followed me around for two months trying to harass and denigrate my credibility while I was on the dias with CTRS management on Table Games. I was not affiliated with any group; I was just one person who was fighting to get an inequity changed so the Charles Town horsemen could keep the money that they earned from table games.

I accomplished this with the passage of the bill quoted in Tom LaMarra’s Blood Horse article WV '10-10-10 Program' Hinges on Governor  

Yes, I won but I lost my honorary membership for speaking out. By the way, I can race at PNGI’s Penn National a hundred miles up the road or at Mountaineer a couple hundred miles down the road. I just can’t race at my hometown Charles Town. I will continue to fight for the Charles Town horsemen any way I can to try to bring back the cooperation of track management and horsemen’s 2003 reputation of the “Best Little Horse House in the Country.”

21 Mar 2010 11:15 AM

exploring and pushing over the edge. According to news networks, that's journalism.

21 Mar 2010 5:24 PM
Slew seem to have been through enough trials, and you spoke out, and it cost you dearly. But I thank you for speaking up. Consider national organizations such as the ASPCA, the Dept of Agriculture, OSHA, and even the NLRB. You might find more avenues opening up for you. I wish you well.

22 Mar 2010 7:19 PM


23 Mar 2010 1:54 AM

Whoa!!!!!!!!!! You actually defend Michael Gill!!!!!!!!

How many of Gill's past and present trainers have been suspended for drug violations?

Let's get the ACLU involved here and come down on the side of a bunch of cheats. Keep up the good work so that all of the perps can be assured of the freedom of speech, freedom of choice, freedom to cheat and only get their wrist slapped.

Do you think all of this has anything to do with the sorry state of racing?

This sport needs tougher penalties, tough-minded administrators and officials, and a "CZAR" who can level the playing field for all.

23 Mar 2010 10:20 AM

Wista: Of all that I have read of Michael Gill, Bloodhorse was the only publication that placed him in a postive light. I don't know him. The information is conflicting, and some comments from people who have day-to-day dealings with him, or purchased his horses, are extremely negative. I cannot concieve where the truth lies but "where's there's smoke, there's fire" from jockeys boycotting his horses to questionable practices to evade a drug screen. Are myectomies more common in his barn than elsewhere? As long as racing commissions do not feel compelled to disclose the reasons for their findings, how can we believe anyone?

24 Mar 2010 8:43 AM
Paula Higgins

Chris, you are pretty much right in what you have stated. But let me say this, while the legal right to exclude people from their tracks exists, they risk blogs like this when they do so. It is irrelevant as to who is right and who is wrong. The resulting bad press isn't worth it. If there is an issue, both parties should try to resolve it amicably. It makes everyone look petty when dirty laundry is aired in the media and it tarnishes the industry in general. It is to everyone's benefit to try and reach an agreement. If you have someone who is constantly trying to undermine you in columns, it is still better to build bridges rather than burn them. If he won't relent and has an agenda, he may not be interested in finding a mutual resoluton. Then I would just ignore him. Eventually, he will lose his audience.

There is always freedom of speech in America but there are consequences for anything you say. Just because you can say something doesn't mean people have to like it or allow you to say it on their property. They have every right to ask you to leave if they feel you are undermining them or sabotaging them in print, or verbally. But again, see the above paragraph for my prefered method of dealing with problems with individuals.

I think when money is involved as in Janene's case, it adds another dimension and often makes resolution difficult. Sad but true.

26 Mar 2010 12:00 AM
Racing Fan

Racetracks and horsemen share a symbiotic relationship. In the case of some tracks like Charles Town, there would be NO slot machines if it were not legislated and supported by horsemen. Horsemen, in turn reap the rewards with the increase in purses that the slots bring. However, corporations like PNGI have forgotten this spirit of cooperation and have decided to treat horsemen like employees. They tell you if you don't like it, go somewhere else.

Except this isn't like working for McDonalds--many horsemen, myself included, have spent a lifetime here, raising horses, buying a farm and investing not only in the horse racing business but the local community. IF you say or do the wrong thing, they have the power to take away your livelihood. Sure, you can go to court, but how do you support yourself for the 5 years (or longer) it takes to wind its way through the court system? And who pays those legal fees? If your license is in good standing with the state, what gives PNGI the right to deny you the opportunity to earn a living because they don't like what you have to say?

27 Mar 2010 2:58 PM

i can see how they exclude people for what ever reason. we as horsemen have never had any kind of representation. from day one the people that are suppost to stand up and fight for us have all been for managment. if theres no one to stand up for us how are we ever going to stop this kind of blattent disregard of are first amendment. i dont have the answer but i think i have stated the the problem....

27 Mar 2010 9:55 PM


31 Mar 2010 11:54 PM
Slew about standing up for yourself?

12 Apr 2010 9:07 AM
big george t /md

Whenever anyone is seemingly wronged and speech or opinion is involved, we tend to cite the First Amendment. I think this situation would more properly fall under the heading of "restraint of trade" where a person is deprived of a livelyhood in a given area for invalid or arbitrary reasons. Obviously tracks and racing commissions need to uphold the integrity of the sport and can exclude individuals when they have broken the rules, but the rules must be clearly defined and evenly enforced.  Not having read the material, or seen excerpts, I have no basis to form any intelligent opinion of who is right or wrong.

04 Dec 2010 4:46 PM

Recent Posts

More Blogs