(Trainer Bob Baffert, back when he was allowed access to the Churchill Downs backside / Photos by Gene McLean)
We are now embarking on a new “feature” that we hope to continue each Monday for the remainder of 2023. We are calling it “McLean’s Monday Musings & Muck Pit.”
It’s some of our thoughts and reflections about what has happened in the horse world over the past weekend, and, perhaps over the past week. Some are good thoughts. Some may be afterthoughts. Some may call them our “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” thoughts. And, yes, some will be our figurative “pitch fork tosses” into the proverbial “Muck Pit.”
So, without further adieu, here’s our inaugural pitch (and some fork):
This Week’s “Muck Pit” Edition:
In Our Opinion, Baffert & Legal Team Have Stooped to All-Time Lows:
In the last week, the legal team for embattled and currently suspended trainer Bob Baffert has killed a lot of trees in Kentucky. And, in our view, each and every document is full of the same crap that Rumpke picks up and disperses every single day. Allegations that are…well…in a few words:
First, the legal team – led by that suave and demeanor Clark Brewster (sarcasm) – has raised questions regarding the ethical behavior of the Honorable Rebecca Jennings, the Federal Judge who is currently presiding over and hearing the latest desperate and feeble legal attempt to get Baffert’s current suspension at Churchill Downs lifted and stayed.
In a story that appeared in “The Thoroughbred Daily News” on Feb. 10 and written by T.D. Thornton, the Baffert “team” has filed legal documents that, one could argue, brings into question Judge Jennings’ judgment, ethics and her husband’s business relationship with other entities that are connected to the horse industry.
In short, Brewster — in a correspondence with Churchill Downs’ legal team — has speculated and/or raised the question on whether Judge Jennings has, perhaps, engaged in “ex parte” communications with Churchill Downs and others in the on-going case, and that Judge Jennings has a “conflict of interest” in this case that she did not reveal. As such, Brewster and Baffert “think” that Judge Jennings should have previously and should now recuse herself from the case.
No matter how you cut it, those are pretty damning accusations for a sitting Federal Judge. Don’t you think?
In the “TDN” story, Thornton writes:
“The plaintiffs submit that the Court’s impartiality is in question because [the judge’s] husband, Michael Patrick Jennings and his firm, Commonwealth Alliances, are legislative agents employed by The Jockey Club,” Baffert’s motion for recusal stated.
“The Jockey Club has actively intervened publicly and litigiously in the litigation surrounding the Bob Baffert/Medina Spirit matter since the beginning of state and racing association action against Mr. Baffert,” the motion stated.
“R. Alex Rankin, a named Defendant in this case, is a senior, influential member of the Jockey Club and serves as a Jockey Club Steward,” the recusal request continued. “The motion is brought on a good faith basis after a diligent investigation of the public record and not for ‘other advantage or litigation tactic’…. [T]he impartiality of the Court is in question, and the necessary remedy is a disqualification.”
In an affidavit signed by one of Baffert’s lawyers that accompanied the motion, attorney Clark Brewster stated that Patrick Jennings was also employed as a lobbyist by The Stronach Group (TSG).
A bit later, Thornton writes:
“The fees earned in 2022 are a clear source of extrajudicial bias,” Baffert’s filing stated. “At no time during the litigation did Judge Jennings disclose her husband’s employment by The Jockey Club [or TSG].”
Brewster’s affidavit laid out his version of recent events, including details of a spat that erupted over the past week involving differences of opinion related to alleged “ex parte” discussions between the judge and the CDI defense team that potentially occurred without Baffert’s attorneys being included. The result was a written denial from the judge that anything improper happened, along with an admonishment from the judge to Baffert’s legal team.
“After the Court adjourned on Feb. 3, I sent an informal email to lead counsel for the defense seeking some understanding of how he knew the Court would commence the continued hearing with the defense being permitted to call a party-witness (Mr. Baffert) out of order and cross-examine a party before he was presented by Plaintiffs’ counsel,” Brewster stated in his affidavit.
“Given that not every contact with court staff is a prohibited ex parte communication, there was no accusation of ethical or judicial impropriety. The email was sent to gain an understanding of Defendants’ surprising degree of knowledge about the mode and manner of the proceedings…
“Defense counsel sent an incendiary email response, copying Judge Jennings and accusing [Brewster] of making false accusations regarding ex parte communications between defense counsel and the Court,” the affidavit stated.
Finally, we get this from Thornton:
On Feb. 8 Judge Jennings issued a memorandum that stated, in part, that, “The Court has not engaged in ex parte communications with either side [and] Plaintiffs are warned that any future conduct implicitly threatening the Court, attempting to create or fabricate a situation suggesting recusal, or made for other advantage or litigation tactic will not be tolerated and may result in a show cause hearing and disciplinary action.”
Brewster claimed in his affidavit that he was “bewildered by the announcement of Judge Jennings and the ‘warning’ to counsel to not suggest recusal, given that counsel had made no effort to impugn the Court or to seek recusal.”
That’s a lot to sift through and digest. Ugh. Let’s delete “digest” and use the word “toss.”
That’s a whole lot of, let’s call them mudballs, to be polite, thrown on the proverbial bathroom walls of the Federal Courthouse.
But let us give you a bit of context, and a whole lot of truth here, folks:
First, I have known Judge Jennings for 20-some years. Maybe more. First made the acquaintance when she was in private practice. And, since day one and the moment you meet her, you are left with several impressions.
There is no doubt that she is brilliant.
There is no doubt that she is one of the most professional, ethical, and incredibly dedicated barristers anyone will ever meet in the profession.
There is no doubt that she understands her role, whatever it may be, and she will strictly adhere to every principal, standard, professional code of conduct and ethical standard ever created for her profession.
I was invited and attended her swearing in ceremony for her new career path as a Federal Judge. I was proud to do so. I was honored to do so. And, I will always remember the words spoken on her behalf that day by some of the most influential political and legal powers in Kentucky history. Incredible compliments given freely because Judge Jennings had earned both respect and credibility of the highest order.
Simply put, Judge Jennings would never – ever – compromise any case or her professional reputation and credibility by ever engaging in anything close to what may be suggested by the likes of Clark Brewster.
She is way too smart. She has way more integrity. She is way too committed to justice; fairness; and the truth. She is way too classy. She is the epitome of justice, and should be the model for any young attorney who aspires to someday join the ranks of the judiciary.
Secondly, I know Judge Jennings’ husband, Patrick Jennings, as well. His office in Frankfort, KY was next to mine for many years. He rented space in my wife’s building. Without question, he is one of the most well-regarded and highly-respected governmental experts in the profession. Any place. Anywhere. Any time.
He may represent the Jockey Club in Kentucky legislative issues, but that would have absolutely no bearing on the case at hand – this case that seemingly will never end regarding Medina Spirit’s disqualifaction from the 2021 Kentucky Derby and the subsequent suspension of the horse’s trainer (Baffert) from the grounds of Churhcill Downs for a period of two years.
The Jockey Club is interested in HISA – the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act – and getting it implemented in Kentucky and around the racing jurisdictions of North America.
Any attempt to drag The Jockey Club into this debate and try to make a connection between that institution and Churchill Downs’ professional reaction to the 2021 Kentucky Derby incident in question is, in a word, desperate. And, in my opinion, pure folly. Laughable.
At one time, in 2021, Patrick Jennings also represented the Stronach Group, the owners of Santa Anita, as well. That’s Santa Anita, folks. That’s the same place that serves as a safe haven for Baffert, and has always catered to Baffert’s every wish. By doing so, Jennings was on the “home team.”
And, to beat all, Jennings’ job for the Stronach Group – which had never had a lobbyist in Kentucky before or since that time — was to either work against the passage of proposed Historical Horseracing Machines in Kentucky (because it would create more purse money to recruit horses for Turfway Park over Gulfstream Park, another Stronach track) or force some Kentucky tracks to utilize more machines that would benefit the Stronach Group.
While the Stronach Group has denied those intentions or directions, why would they have hired a lobbyist in Kentucky for the first time? In that year? During that legislative debate regarding such an important issue? And, why didn’t any of their representatives – including Jennings – ever work collaboratively with the collection of Kentucky tracks — including Churchill Downs — and other allies to help pass the HHR legislation? Not even one meeting. Not even one vote. Not even one time.
Which brings any sane person to the same conclusion:
How does that former representation serve as a conflict of interest now? Here? In this case?
Argumentatively, Jennings was working to benefit Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park. Argumentatively, Jennings was working to benefit the home track of Baffert, and, as a result, Baffert himself.
To be honest, this seems to be the latest chapter in a never-ending story of Baffert fantasy, which we hope will end one of these days.
But just when you believe that Baffert and Brewster have finally reached the bottom, they find another basement of embarrassment to dig up a story and fall a little deeper in despair.
And, quite frankly…
In Our Opinion, Here’s An Idea for Churchill Downs to Consider:
Every time Baffert and Brewster dream up another lawsuit or another threat, maybe Churchill Downs’ President & CEO Bill Carstanjen and the crew at the world’s most renown racetrack should consider adding another year to the Baffert suspension.
Every time they file another motion, I would add another year.
Every time they make another ridiculous allegation, I would add another year.
Every time they waste another second and dollar, I would add another year.
Maybe that would finally end this senseless spiral of wasteful litigation.
In Our Opinion, Here’s The Stat of the Week (And, Maybe the Reason Santa Anita/Gulfstream Park Officials Were Worried About HHR & Turfway Park):
Thanks to my good friend, Edward DeRosa, the content editor over at HorseRacingNation.com, we have some interesting data that we will share each Monday.
This week, we are taking a quick examination at the number of horses that are entered in races all over the Americas since Dec. 1, 2022. It may surprise you which tracks are averaging more starters per race than others.
Here’s what our latest query found:
Charles Town 7.85
Santa Anita 7.73
Fair Grounds 7.03
(The average for ALL races over that time is 7.77)
Turfway Park – the new and improved version with the power of HHR now – has now got more horses per race than Oaklawn Park?
Turfway Park – the amazingly new facility in Florence – is producing better races than the “Championship Meet” at Gulfstream Park? Maybe now we know why Gulfstream Park hired a lobbyist to kill HHR legislation in Kentucky. Right?
Turfway Park – the sparkling enterprise in Northern Kentucky – is averaging 3 more horses per race than the old “Great Race Place” in Santa Anita? Oh, that Santa Anita? The one who hired a lobbyist in 2021 at the same time of the HHR legislative debate?
Turfway Park – the spanking new racetrack and gaming hall – is now the best winter racing venue in all North America. Fact.
And, that’s the same Turfway Park that is owned by Churchill Downs.
Amazing. Isn’t it?
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