Cindy's Horse Racing Website Index

Racism at Assiniboia Downs?

Date: 09/01/2003

Juan Crawford aboard Remiewaterbluz, after winning the Canada Day Stakes at Assiniboia Downs. Photo courtesy of Assiniboia Downs.

More on Crawford:
 Profile and photo from Barbados Turf Club
 Crawford article from the Winnipeg Sun
 Another article from the Sun
 Jockey standings at Assiniboia Downs where Crawford remains #2 despite serving 16 days of suspensions

Assiniboia Downs jockey Juan Crawford, a 24-year-old native of Barbados, was suspended for the rest of the meet and banned from the track grounds by Manitoba stewards due to an incident where he punched fellow jockey Ken Hendricks in the face in the jockey's room.

This occurred after the third race on August 15 when Crawford claimed foul against the 54-year-old Hendricks for cutting him off in a race. The penalty was the stiffest handed down by Manitoba stewards in recent memory and will cost the jockey about $10,000 in lost income, a chance at the leading rider title (he was second in the standings at the time) and at least $8000 in legal fees. Crawford also faces an assault charge.

Initially, Crawford appealed his suspension to the law courts of Manitoba, where his lawyers indicated that Crawford's rights had been repeatedly "trampled" during the Stewards original investigation.

Crawford was not told who is accusers were, saw no documentation, and Hendricks did not even attend. There were no witnesses to be cross-examined and Crawford had no legal representation.

Also, before the hearing even took place, Chief Manitoba Steward Larry Huber was quoted in Winnipeg's largest daily newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press, as saying, "It was an unprovoked attack." by Crawford. The quoted line "unprovoked attack" also appeared in the headline of the story, further damaging Crawford's reputation - before the hearing.

Crawford's lawyers would later prove in the appeal hearing that the attack was not unprovoked.

The law courts judge appeared to agree with Crawford's lawyers, but the lawyer for the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission (MHRC) argued that the law said if a judiciary body (such as the MHRC) has an appeal process in place that avenue must be used first.

Crawford's lawyers did just that, appealing Crawford's original suspension to the MHRC. His lawyer's also asked that David Miles, the Chair of the MHRC, be disqualified from hearing the appeal, since he had been involved in imposing the original penalty based on the hearing in which Crawford's right's were "trampled."

Miles, who is also well known to be close personal friends with jockey agent Larry Oberlander, who books mounts at Assiniboia Downs for jockeys that compete with Crawford for mounts, refused to be disqualified from the proceedings. Also Chief Steward Larry Huber, well known to be friends with jockey Ken Hendricks, remained as a witness for the MHRC, despite his comments made in the newspaper before the hearing.

Despite this, Crawford successfully appealed the original suspension with the MHRC and will resume riding on September 7.

During the appeal hearing, Crawford was supported by: 7-time leading Assiniboia Downs trainer Clayton Gray, 5-time leading trainer Ardell Sayler, along with trainers John Keegan and Lorna Gray. Crawford's lawyer's also cross-examined four jockeys who had seen Crawford "sucker punch" Hendricks. The stories originally told by the jockeys fell apart under cross-examination. The lawyers also had another jockey questioned, who said he saw Hendricks purse his lips at Crawford before Crawford punched him.

Crawford's lawyers also demonstrated that the original penalty was out of line with those normally handed down for a similar offence.

As part of the reduced penalty of 12 racing days Crawford is required to take an anger management course. But although his suspension was reduced, he still has to appear in court to face an assault charge.

The suspension as originally imposed, and its eventual reduction, seem on the surface to be of little significance, but further investigation shows that perhaps Crawford was not totally at fault and was unfairly treated all along. He has probably received more suspensions than all the other riders combined at Assiniboia Downs over the last two years, yet he has never cause an accident or been involved in one.

And a few days after the incident, a paramedic who attended to Hendricks made a statement to track security officials that Hendricks used racial slurs to refer to Crawford. The paramedic quoted that, when she asked him who punched him, Hendricks' answer was: "It was that f*****g n****r over there who hit me, that f*****g monkey."

In a separate statement, Crawford's roommate Jason Leacock, also from Barbados, alleged that Hendricks called Crawford a "n****r" after the fight. Chief steward Larry Huber confirmed the statements made but said that five other witnesses (including the witnesses that couldn't describe the actual punch under cross-examination) did not report hearing such comments made. Hendricks, who is Assiniboia Downs' all-time leading jockey, is white while Crawford is black.

It appears that this was not an isolated incident. Following a race on Manitoba Derby Day last year, the day which brings out the biggest crowd of the season at Assiniboia Downs, another rider named Jerry Pruitt struck Crawford without provocation as the riders were unsaddling their horses in front of a crowd of 5000 people. For that, the stewards fined Pruitt a mere $200 and did not suspend him at all.

Crawford noted, "A white guy punches a black guy and he gets a fine. A black guy hits a white guy and he gets barred."

Crawford also claims that the other jockeys and the stewards have targeted him all along, because of how he came from an obscure background in Barbados and quickly became a top rider on the circuit. Someone wrote graffiti on his car which was parked on the backstretch, the words "We don't want n****rs here." Crawford said, "When they're physically trying to get me, I can't take that."

Crawford's agent had complained to the stewards earlier in the year, that Hendricks had tried to intimidate and possibly drop Crawford following a race. His agent, who had heard before the incident, through the backstretch rumor mill, that an attempt might be made to drop Crawford, provided taped evidence of the dropping incident to the stewards.

Despite the fact that the tape had been viewed by numerous respected trainers and members of the press box before being presented to stewards Larry Huber, Craig McDonald, Hazel Bochinski and Jack Wash, the stewards said that nothing had happened and fined Crawford's agent $200 for conduct prejudicial to the best interests of racing. This is not new.

Last year, when agent Terry Alderson complained of unfair and possibly prejudicial treatment towards new jockeys, he was fined $1500 for conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing.

At the time of his most recent suspension Crawford had racked up three suspensions this year and seven in 2002. A few days before the punching incident Crawford was also given a three day suspension for something the stewards did not even see in a race.

There was no claim of foul and no inquiry over the incident, yet Crawford was called in the day after the race in question and given a three-day suspension.

In the racing incident that led to the punch, Crawford had claimed foul against Hendricks for being cut off on turn, and when nothing happened, and Crawford asked Hendricks why he had cut him off, Hendricks, according to some witnesses, taunted Crawford by pursing his lips. This was the final straw for Crawford.

Even worse, Hendricks, who was supposed to be severely injured and unable to ride, is walking around the track like nothing happened - the stewards called him in on the incident and there was never a ruling against him. And he was taking calls the day following Crawford's appeal hearing.

Also, the supposedly "injured" jockey, who claimed he couldn't attend Crawford's appeal hearing because his doctor said stress could cause his eye to bleed, was seen by three eye-witnesses loading a refrigerator out of a tack room into a truck, in the rain - two days prior to Crawford's appeal hearing.

Even stranger, were questions by some individuals, regarding the whereabouts of the fridge. A day after Crawford's appeal was heard(where the fridge issue was brought up), Hendricks was seen unloading another fridge off a truck and back into that same tackroom.

The 54-year-olds single Hendricks is now back riding without penalty, while Crawford is not even allowed on the grounds of the track to gallop horses until the day he is allowed to return to riding Sept.7.

Crawford lives in a small apartment with a roommate and his common-law wife, who just prior to the suspension, delivered the couple's first child.

Crawford's request to be allowed back on the grounds to earn a living galloping horses while he sits out his suspension, was denied by the stewards, yet Hendricks has returned to ride pending a hearing by the MHRC (he was already cleared by the stewards), because MHRC officials were quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press as saying Hendricks can't be denied the right to earn his living. Huh?

What about Crawford's right to earn a living?

Certainly the whole incident seems to spring from blatant, but unpunished, racism on the part of at least Hendricks and possibly more people at Assiniboia Downs.

The Manitoba Jockey Club which runs Assiniboia Downs and has the ultimate say as to who does and doesn't ride at their track, are conducting their own investigation into the allegations of racism. Their board meets on Sept.8.

The MHRC has said they will also be holding a hearing regarding Hendricks alleged racist remarks sometime in the next few weeks. In the meantime, Hendricks rides and Crawford doesn't, and the meet ends at the end of September.

While Crawford may have not used good judgment in how he reacted to the incident, he certainly was not unprovoked and should not have been the only person punished by the stewards. Fair play should be normal practice, although it doesn't appear to be at this track.

With files from Paul Wiecek, Winnipeg Free Press

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