A scheduling conference on Oct. 13 revealed that NYRA-appointed hearing officer Robert Smith has set March 1, 2022 as the date for trainer Marcus Vitali’s disciplinary hearing to begin, reports bloodhorse.com.
The New York Racing Association issued a statement of charges and notice of hearing to both Vitali and trainer Bob Baffert on Sept. 10, 2021. The charges include both conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing and conduct detrimental to the business interests of NYRA.
NYRA’s public statement from that day reads, in part: “NYRA contends that Mr. Baffert and Mr. Vitali have engaged in conduct that is detrimental to the best interests of the sport of Thoroughbred racing or potentially injurious to the health or safety of horses or riders. Further, as detailed in the respective statements of charges, this conduct warrants revocation or suspension of their right to train horses, enter races, or engage in any racing-related activity at all NYRA properties including Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.”
Vitali raced just one horse at a NYRA track this year, sending out Red Venus to finish last of seven in the fourth race on July 22 at Saratoga. After not starting any horses from July 21, 2019, until Jan. 4, 2021, Vitali has saddled 14 winners in 2021, primarily racing at Turf Paradise, Lone Star, and Presque Isle.
NYRA’s statement of charges against Vitali begins: “From between in or about 2010 and in or about 2020, Respondent amassed an extensive record of medication violations, lengthy suspensions, improperly using ‘program’ or ‘paper’ trainers during suspensions and obstructing an investigation into alleged wrongdoing. In the past five years, Respondent was denied entry, ejected and/or had license applications denied by regulators of Thoroughbred racing in Florida, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Delaware; and was sanctioned by the Jockey Club for violating a racing statute, rule or regulation relating to prohibited or restricted drugs, medications or substances seven times in a single year.”
Vitali has made headlines many times over the years, first for numerous therapeutic medication violations, then for avoiding sanctions for positive post-race drug tests by turning in his license in Florida. In 2016, reporting by the Paulick Report revealed Vitali was training horses at Gulfstream Park under the name of Allan Hunter; Vitali and Hunter were subsequently barred from the entry box there and at Tampa Bay Downs. Vitali reapplied for a trainer’s license in Florida, where state officials credited him with time served for his medication overages.
The Jockey Club denied Vitali Stud Book privileges for two years, starting January 1, 2017, for being determined to have violated on seven occasions a racing statute, rule or regulation relating to prohibited or restricted drugs, medications or substances in a Thoroughbred on seven occasions within a 365-day period.
Vitali sent out just 29 starters in 2017, mostly at Gulfstream and Gulfstream Park West, but returned with a stronger hand in 2018, with 334 starters, also mostly in South Florida.
In 2019, Vitali’s license was suspended for one year when he interfered with a search conducted by Delaware Park security of his employee’s dorm, bursting into the room and absconding with an object which was never recovered. Vitali claimed the object was a container of marijuana. His employee at the time said it was an unlabeled vial containing a clear liquid of some type which Vitali asked her to keep in her refrigerator. He has completed that suspension.
In 2020, the Maryland Jockey Club told the Paulick Report that it had given trainer Wayne Potts one week to vacate his barn at Laurel Park, where he keeps 30 horses, after track officials say they discovered Potts was program training for Vitali. Vitali reportedly could not get stalls at racetracks in the area. Maryland officials said they discovered the connection between the two when horses based at Rising Sun Training Center in New Jersey were entered under Potts’s name at Laurel and turned up with health certificates that had been altered to white out Vitali’s name. A cluster of horses appeared at Rising Sun around that time from longtime Vitali clients, primarily from Florida. That cluster included Be Gone Daddy.
After Potts was told to vacate Laurel, Vitali applied for a training license in Illinois afterwards but was unsuccessful in receiving one. The horses formerly based at Rising Sun ran at Arlington Park and Hawthorne under trainer Dino DiZeo. Many of the same group from Rising Sun posted workouts at Turf Paradise in the days before Vitali saddled his first runner there.
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