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Jockeys boycott top US owner Gill over safety

USA: Jockeys at Penn National racecourse in Pennsylvania have refused to ride in races in which leading owner Michael Gill has a runner - and the track has suspended entries from Gill while the situation is investigated.

Last year Gill owned more winners, 369, and won more prize-money, $6,656,930, than any other owner in North America, yet received only six of 230 votes for the Eclipse Award for outstanding owner, won by Godolphin.

Michael Gill

Michael Gill: controversial figure

  PICTURE: Unknown  

Thejockeys took action after Laughing Moon, owned by Gill and trained by Darrel Delahoussaye, collapsed and was put down after finishing third in the fifth race on Saturday.

Neither jockey Ricky Frazier nor Thomas Clifton, who was unseated when his mount, Sylvia's Forte, was hampered by Laughing Moon, were injured, but the sixth race was delayed while jockeys discussed the situation.

Clifton said: "You cannot believe how worried we are for our own safety and the safety of all the horses."

After the jockeys' announced their decision, Justin M, owned by Gill, was scratched from the next race and, after 40 minutes, racing resumed.

Last Thursday, Gill's Melodeeman, trainedby Anthony Adamo, also broke down and horsemen critical of Gill allege that there is an unusually high rate of breakdowns among his horses, a charge the owner rejects.

A controversial figure, Gill, 54, runs huge numbers of moderate, claiming horses in pursuit of big winning numbers.

Last year his horses made 2,245 starts, more than twice as many as any other owner, but it is very rare for any of his horses to contest graded races.

Gill actively acquires and disposes of claiming horses and critics accuse him of treating horses as commodities.

Gill acknowledges that he is very competitive and treats racehorse ownership as a business but insists that his horses are well treated,while he is not.

He said: "I tell everybody, they can go to my farm, my barn, they can inspect every one of my horses. I never ask for special treatment. All I ask for is to be treated fairly."

Gill has about 50 stalls at Penn National but several racetracks refuse to give him stalls and he ships horses to tracks from his training centre at Elk Creek Ranch, in Pennsylvania.

He has reportedly sacked Delahoussaye and is reducing the number of horses he owns, once about 450 and currently about 220, to 120.

Gill is not the only leading US owner in difficulty. Zayat Stables, leading owner in 2008 and third behind Gill and Juddmonte Farms in last year's owner' list, is alleged to owe over $34 million to Fifth Third Bank, which is seeking to have control of the 200 horse stable wrested from owner Ahmed Zayat.

The stable, which is alleged to have lost over $65 million between 2006 to 2009, acknowledges "serious financial challenges" requiring an "orderly liquidation" of the business. A hearing is scheduled for February 8.


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