Simply showing up at an Indiana horse track this summer will be a triumph for Ed Martin Jr., the industry power player banned by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission in November 2010.
Marion Superior Judge S.K. Reid recently overturned the commission’s decision to keep Martin out of Indiana racetracks, a reversal that one racing industry lawyer said is rare.
“It’s not easy to get decisions of racing commissions reversed,” said Michael Meuser at Miller Griffin & Marks in Lexington, Ky. “I dare say in most states, it doesn’t happen very often.”
Meuser added that he’s been successful in just one out of 60 appeals in Kentucky and other states.
The commission banned Martin from the tracks for participating in racing and wagering-related activities without a license. The commission found that Martin, as executive director of the Indiana Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association in 2010, had conducted business, including running an annual horse sale, at Hoosier Park.
Martin, 54, is the former owner of a chain of Indiana car dealerships, and he was instrumental in building Indiana’s horse-racing industry.
The ban was set to expire July 19, but since Reid’s May 29 ruling, Martin celebrated by attending a June 6 race at Indiana Downs.
The commission requires people who directly participate in races, such as veterinarians and jockeys, to have a license, and it licenses horse owners and others who are part of the industry.
Martin argued that the commission went too far with its view of what it means to participate in racing, and Reid agreed.
She ruled that his administrative work for ITOBA did not amount to “participation” in racing and that the commission lacked substantial evidence that he’d conducted other business, including the horse sale.
“They’re not free to regulate whomever they want and whenever they please,” Martin’s attorney, Michael Red at Fleming Stage LLP in Indianapolis, said.
Racing commission attorney Robin Babbitt of Bingham Greenebaum Doll in Indianapolis said he intends to appeal Reid’s decision. He declined to comment further.
During a May 14 hearing, Reid pushed Babbitt to spell out what actions Martin took that put him in violation of the law. Babbitt explained that Martin had worked the thoroughbred sale and that he met with Hoosier Park’s racing manager, Brian Elmore, to schedule the sale.
Reid replied, “I’ve got to confess, on the record, that’s a real stretch.”
Babbitt argued in the hearing that limiting the commission’s authority would undermine the entire regulatory system. Jockeys’ agents, veterinary helpers, farriers and the like could all skirt licensing by arguing that they don’t participate in racing, he said. Without licensing, the commission can’t keep felons and people who’ve violated the rules in other states away from Indiana tracks, he said.
Babbitt noted that the commission had asked directors and employees of all the racing breed trade groups to get licensed. Martin refused, saying he simply wouldn’t conduct ITOBA business at a track, but then, Babbitt said, he did just that.
“It wasn’t a problem here for anybody but Mr. Martin,” Babbitt said.
Even before the ban, Martin sparred with the commission and Executive Director Joe Gorajec. He criticized the commission’s handling of slot-machine revenue that subsidizes horse racing, saying oversight was inadequate.
Martin had made pointed remarks about Gorajec, and he claims the licensing issue was an effort to shut him up.
The issue arose around the same time the commission was investigating allegations of neglect at Martin’s horse-breeding farm in Florida.
Martin admits that he struggled to cover all the farm’s expenses after the 2008 financial crisis, and he eventually sold it. He sat out the 2010 racing season, and he hasn’t been active in raising or racing horses since.
In April, he filed suit in federal court, alleging that Gorajec and others violated his civil rights by illegally searching the farm.
Gorajec has said Martin’s federal suit is “totally without merit.” He said the Indiana State Police and inspector general have looked at the same issues Martin raises about the case and found “absolutely no wrongdoing by the commission or anyone on the commission staff.”
Martin hasn’t stopped tracking industry issues, or playing watchdog to the commission.
He started a not-for-profit, Indiana Breeder and Owner Protection. Unlike ITOBA and other breed-specific trade groups, Martin said, the new organization will not rely on slot-machine revenue, which is allocated by the racing commission.•