NEW YORK — Two years after filing a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, a harness-racing bettor has received $20,000 in the settlement of his claims that he was cheated out of his winnings when a doped horse won a race in New Jersey in 2016.
After the lawsuit was filed in March 2018, leading figures in harness racing said they had never before heard of such a lawsuit, which accused the trainer of fraud and racketeering. The general practice has been to reallocate the purse to other owners in the event a winning horse is later proved to have been doped but not to pay back bettors.
The settlement, reached in July and made public Wednesday, resulted from extensive negotiations on behalf of the bettor, Jeffrey Tretter, and the lawsuit’s two defendants — trainer Robert Bresnahan Jr. and the horse’s owner, J.L. Sadowsky.
Under the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay Tretter $20,000 and Tretter agreed to donate $7,500 of that sum to a racehorse adoption program.
The settlement bars the parties from making any future claims related to the case and stipulates that the agreement does not constitute an admission of liability.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, was financed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to open the gates for more litigation by bettors, which the animal rights group hopes would dramatically curtail illegal horse doping. PETA contends that injured horses are sometimes dying on the tracks because they were doped illegally or overmedicated to keep them running when they should be recuperating.
Tretter, an experienced gambler from Granite City, Illinois, said he hoped the lawsuit would strengthen efforts to “clean up harness racing.”
“We faced a lot of opposition because of the precedent involved, but I hope this will open the door for others to come forward and hold those responsible accountable for their blatant cheating at tracks across North America,” he said in a statement. “Bettors must organize and go after the cheats for every verifiable dime that was lost.”
Andrew Benedict, one of Bresnahan’s lawyers, described the case as “a David vs. Goliath type thing,” with PETA able to finance extensive litigation against two defendants who were not major figures in harness racing and had far fewer resources.
“It was rough for us to defend this case on all fronts, because of the amount of money that PETA was pouring into it,” Benedict said. “It shows they had no evidence of criminal wrongdoing or they wouldn’t have settled so cheaply.”
The lawsuit said Tretter placed wagers through an online betting site on a harness race at the Meadowlands Racetrack on Jan. 15, 2016. The horses he picked to place first through fourth instead finished behind Tag Up and Go, who had been a longshot in the race.
Meadowlands later revealed that Tag Up and Go had tested positive for EPO, a banned performance-enhancing substance, based on blood samples taken in December. As a result, Bresnahan was barred from competing at Meadowlands, but there was no redress for bettors such as Tretter.
According to his lawsuit, he correctly picked the horses that finished second, third, fourth and fifth behind the doped horse in a variety of wagers that would have paid a combined $31,835 if Tag Up and Go had been disqualified.
The lawsuit alleged fraud on the part of Bresnahan and the company that owned Tag Up and Go. It also alleged violations of the federal and state anti-racketeering laws known as RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), contending that the federal law was violated because Bresnahan was engaging in interstate commerce.
The owner of Meadowlands, Jeff Gural, has been among the leaders in harness racing trying to curb doping. The Tag Up and Go doping case emerged through one of his initiatives, establishing “out of competition” drug testing that subjects horses to the possibility of testing at any time.
PETA is critical of horse racing but is pushing for reforms rather than actively campaigning for an all-out ban.