What began as an attempt to tweak Bob Baffert may eventually end up in federal court.
Thoroughbred owner Jerry Jamgotchian wants to call one of his colts Bad Test Bob — a jab at Baffert’s recent rash of drug positives. And though that name has been rejected by the Jockey Club, Jamgotchian refuses to let it go.
He has paid a $1,000 non-refundable fee to have the matter heard before arbitrator Linda Hopgood on June 11, and another $1,000 to challenge the Jockey Club’s refusal to sanction Malpractice Meuser, a name previously approved in the United Kingdom and inspired by one of Baffert’s attorneys, Michael Meuser.
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Since the arbitration process will likely result only in a recommendation to Jockey Club stewards, Jamgotchian anticipates spending as much as $100,000 to pursue his naming rights through the legal system.
What’s in a name? Plenty, it turns out.
“The Jockey Club, just like all these other jackasses in California, they want to protect Baffert,” Jamgotchian said. “As soon as we get through this, I’m going to federal district court and filing a civil rights action. . . And they’re going to get smoked.”
Jockey Club representatives declined to discuss the matter on the record, but the brief filed by attorney Chapman Hopkins characterized Jamgotchian’s claims as “a melange of half-truths and outright misstatements.”
Beyond dispute is that Jerry Jamgotchian is legendarily litigious and so deeply disliked among regulators that Richard Shapiro, former chairman of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) once pleaded no contest to vandalizing Jamgotchian’s Jaguar. Mike Pegram, former chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, later sued him for defamation and settled with an insurance company (over Jamgotchian’s objections) for $885,000.
“I am sure he has a nice family and hopefully does care about racing and the thousands of people in it,” John Harris, another former CHRB chairman, told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2009. “But he is a counterproductive, self-destructive person with a mean-spirited persona.”
The California shopping center developer is, by most accounts, a man whose principles outweigh his profit motive, and an adversary with the perseverance of a pit bull.
“It’s going to cost me about $60,000 or $70,000, maybe $100,000,” Jamgotchian said. “I don’t really care. I want horse racing to have some rules that people follow. . .
“This is just the right thing to do. People should have the right to name whatever they want as long as it’s not obscene. You want to take a shot at somebody, take a shot at somebody.”
In maintaining the American Stud Book, the Jockey Club controls the registration of U.S. thoroughbreds and has adopted strict standards for acceptable names. Among the many prohibited names are those that are deemed suggestive or vulgar, those that may offend religious, political or ethnic groups and, in this case, those that “appear to be designed to harass, humiliate or disparage a specific individual, group of individuals, or entity.”
Jockey Club registrar Rick Bailey cited this last rule – 6 (F) 11 of the Principal Rules and Requirements of the American Stud Book — in letters rejecting the names Bad Test Bob (dated March 1) and Malpractice Meuser (Feb. 3).
“It cannot be disputed that (Jockey Club) appropriately applied its Rules and determined that both names submitted by Appellant, on their face, violated Rule 6(F)(11),” Hopkins wrote. “Appellant has not— and cannot—point to any facts or evidence that would lead the Hearing Officer to a different conclusion.”
Jamgotchian contends the rejected names represent an infringement on the First Amendment and are in conflict with recent Supreme Court decisions concerning “viewpoint discrimination.” In a brief submitted in advance of next month’s hearing, Jamgotchian says the name Bad Test Bob was not intended to disparage anyone; that the name refers to one Bob Dreyfuss of Chatsworth, Calif., and his test for COVID-19.
Asked to account for his own contradictory narratives, Jamgotchian said the name references both Dreyfuss and Baffert. He said Baffert is “always looking for the edge,” and has been protected for the most part by the CHRB.
“I think Bob Baffert has already disparaged his own name,” he said. “I don’t think Jerry Jamgotchian is going to disparage his name any more than Bob Baffert has.”
Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, [email protected]; Twitter: @TimSullivan714