FREEHOLD, N.J. -- The nation's leading harness driver and two other top drivers at Freehold Raceway have been suspended for six months and fined $500 each as a result of "unsatisfactory" performances last month.
The New Jersey Racing Commission handed down the penalties Saturday against George Brennan, the leading driver in North America, and Jim Morrill Jr. and Howard Parker, "due to a lack of effort."
The commission launched an investigation after a March 10 race generated "suspicious" wagering payoffs, officials said. In that race, Brennan finished last (eighth) on My Dream Come True, the 2-1 second choice. Parker on Bo Knows Matt (7-1) finished seventh, and Morrill was fifth on Neirda No, the 7-2 third choice.
The resulting trifecta paid only $92.50 although the No. 1 horse, World Class Storm, an 8-1 shot, won the race and the No. 3 horse, Letsgo Sparkle, a 29-1 shot, finished third. The favorite, the No. 2 horse, The Shawnster, also 2-1, was second. The 1-2 exacta paid $26.40 although the winner returned $19.
The judges learned that one bettor wagered heavily on the 1-2 exacta and the 1-2-3 trifecta. An investigation revealed that the bettor was Parker's chauffeur, who transported him from Freehold to the Meadowlands daily.
The bettor earned $24,000 for his wagers, but has been unable to collect $6,000 because the judges ordered the pari-mutuel windows closed when they became suspicious of the payouts. The bettor, who was not identified, has hired an attorney to have the winnings released.
Brennan insisted on Sunday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that all he did was follow the race instructions given him by Joe Krajczewski, the trainer of My Dream Come True.
"He told me to race from behind, to take him off the gate and that's exactly what I did," Brennan said. "I do it 20 times a day. For those two minutes those people are my employers, and it's my job to do what they say."
Brennan said he was asked to take a polygraph test by state officials and he said it showed he answered truthfully.
"My reputation is on the line," Brennan said. "I'm going to try to (fight). It's unfortunate. I'm the leading driver at Freehold, one of the leaders at the Meadowlands and the leading driver in North America. I just don't feel too good about this."
Brennan plans to discuss the suspension and a possible appeal on Monday with Joe Faraldo, a New York City-based attorney.
Brennan, 31, of Howell, is Freehold's leading driver with 94 victories and the national leader with 171. Morrill, 34, of Freehold, is fourth at Freehold with 51 victories, and Parker, 40, of Freehold, fifth with 46. All three are in the top 10 in the Meadowlands' driver standings.
The penalties extend to Garden State Park, which like Freehold is owned by Pennwood Racing Inc. Brennan, Morrill and Parker will not be allowed at Freehold or Garden State.
The commission also ordered that the trio face a year of probation when they return in October.
Parker and Morrill were not available to comment on Sunday.