The Indiana Horse Racing Commission is expected on Saturday to fire the man who has guided the industry since the state legalized parimutuel wagering 25 years ago.
The commission is scheduled to hold an executive session at 9:15 a.m. Saturday followed by a regular meeting, where members are expected to replace Joe Gorajec, the commission's executive director since 1990.
Commissioners are frustrated with Gorajec for being too focused on enforcing regulations and not focused enough on marketing and promoting horse racing within the state, IHRC Chairman Thomas Weatherwax said.
“We’re not going to do one thing to take away our integrity in this industry,” he said.
Weatherwax praised Gorajec's performance, but said it may be time to go in another direction.
“We’re at a crossroads,” said Weatherwax, a Republican who served 24 years as a state senator before retiring in 2008. “It just takes a little different attitude to take it to the next level. We’re going to be doing more to promote and market our business and get more people involved. Everything I’m telling you is economic development.”
All five commissioners are appointees of the govenor, who also selects the chairman. Weatherwax said Gov. Mike Pence supports the commission's handling of the matter.
Gorajec’s long-time assistant, Deena Pitman, is expected to take over as interim executive director.
Weatherwax said he plans a national search for Gorajec’s replacement, with the goal of having the new director in place when the horse racing season begins in May.
“You’re not going to find someone to replace the quality of Joe Gorajec growing on trees,” Weatherwax said. “We have a difficult job in front of us.”
Gorajec has become nationally known for his tough stance on regulatory issues including guidelines for drug use and medical care for racehorses. Weatherwax said Gorajec’s “real calling” may be in working on these issues on the national level—possibly for the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
Weatherwax said he was set to meet Gorajec and discuss his job responsibilities earlier this week, but Gorajec canceled that meeting. He said he hasn’t talked to Gorajec in three days.
“What I’m telling you is what I’d be telling Joe if he’d talk to me,” said Weatherwax, who became IHRC chairman last year. “I am so shocked in the way Joe is handling this.”
IBJ could not reach Gorajec for comment.
One source in the horseracing industry said Friday that “most of the people involved in this industry are happy with the job Joe is doing.” But another told IBJ there is some unhappiness with a lack of initiatives under Gorajec to help market and grow the state equine industry.
Just 1,200 mares were bred in the state this year, down from 3,400 four years ago—a decline one industry insider blamed partly on Gorajec's iron-fisted regulatory style.
“The economic impact is going the wrong way when it should be going the right way,” said one horse owner. “The industry is shrinking and it shouldn’t be.”
Ray Paulick, publisher of The Paulick Report, a Lexington, Kentucky-based publication that covers horseracing, contends Gorajec is getting fired for doing what he’s supposed to do.
“In my opinion, (the firing) is because Gorajec has done too good a job in regulating horseracing and attempting to ensure integrity for those who participate as owners, trainers or bettors,” Paulick said. “He has stepped on toes, and some of those toes may belong to people who have friends in high places in Indiana politics.”