The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has barred trainer Eric Guillot from entering horses or having stalls at any of its three tracks in response to Guillot’s use of a racially insensitive name given to one of his horses. In addition, The Stronach Group through its 1/ST Racing arm has also banned Guillot.
The horse in question carried the name of Grape Soda when he won last Friday’s first race at Aqueduct. The Uncle Mo gelding, who was making his career debut for Cypress Creek Equine, was claimed for US$25,000 by owner Lawrence Roman.
The furore over the horse’s name was stoked by a January 1 tweet issued from Guillot in which he posted a picture of the horse and wrote, “This colt will run next week and has unique name in honour of a TVG analyst” with a black raised fist emoji. The tweet appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to TVG host Ken Rudulph, who is Black.
Originally the horse was named Kersetter before a December 29 change at Guillot’s suggestion to Grape Soda —which can be used as a racist term for a drink stereotypically associated with Black people.
Roman said Saturday that he has changed the gelding’s name to Respect for All and will donate 10 per cent of its gross earnings to the Backstretch Employee Service Team at NYRA tracks.
“When I heard about the controversy, which I knew nothing of at the time of the claim, you have to make something good out of a bad situation and this is a bad situation. Nobody should ever name a horse in a manner that’s disrespectful of anyone. You have to do the right thing,” Roman said. “I love the sport and we don’t need more controversy with this kind of stuff. We all want to win. That’s good controversy, but stuff like this, we don’t need this. It’s terrible. Hopefully people will now root for the horse and we’ll do something good for people through the earnings.”
“Racism is completely unacceptable in all forms. NYRA rejects Eric Guillot’s toxic words and divisive behaviour in the strongest terms,” NYRA CEO and president Dave O’Rourke said in a Jan. 9 statement. “At this time, he will no longer be permitted to enter horses at any NYRA track nor will he be allocated stalls on NYRA grounds. In addition, we will review what further steps may be available to us. Our racing community is diverse, and we stand for inclusion.”
As for the impact on Guillot, though he has won 259 races and compiled earnings of more than US$13 million in a career dating back to 1991, his runner in last Friday’s race was believed to be his last as a trainer. He sent out a Tweet Saturday that said, “First day of retirement is going awesome.”
NYRA said there were no horses trained by Guillot on its grounds as of Saturday afternoon. In the days leading up to Friday’s race, Guillot had about three horses at Belmont Park, all of which have been dispersed to new trainers. TVG issued a statement Saturday praising NYRA and Roman and saying it will not air races involving Guillot, should he return to the sport.
“TVG commends NYRA for taking swift action on the matter involving Eric Guillot,” TVG’s statement read. “There is simply no place in society for racism and we condemn his behaviour, a deliberate attempt to slur one of our employees, in the strongest terms. Our network will no longer air races in which he has an entry. We also commend the action by new owner Larry Roman to change the horse’s name. We will continue to work toward making racing more inclusive and to attracting a new generation of fans.”
Aidan Butler, chief operating officer of 1/ST Racing, issued the following statement Saturday: “1/ST Racing stands firmly against the inexcusable actions of trainer Eric Guillot. There is no place in the sport of Thoroughbred racing for racism in any form. Our company will not tolerate the use of hateful and divisive language or behaviour.
“1/ST Racing agrees fully with the New York Racing Association’s move to ban Mr Guillot from racing and will take the same action. Mr Guillot is no longer welcomed at any 1/ST Racing track.”
Earlier in the day, The Jockey Club, which approves the names of all registered Thoroughbreds, ruled the name Grape Soda ineligible.
“The Jockey Club was notified yesterday that the name Grape Soda, which was approved for a 2018 gelding, was potentially offensive. Upon review we have confirmed that the name is ineligible under Rule 6.F.11. of the Principal Rules and Requirements of The American Stud Book, and we have begun the name change process in consultation with the current owner, which must be completed as soon as possible,” The Jockey Club said in its statement.
—Courtesy The Blood-Horse