Racing steward Clinton Pitts Jr. was suspended five days by Robert Banning, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, today for using "inappropriate language" when responding to a query Saturday by another racing commissioner. The suspension, to begin Friday, was the first of a steward in Maryland.
The suspension was announced after a closed-door meeting between Pitts and the racing board. Four of the five commissioners attended, with Frank Cucchia absent.
The incident that sparked the suspension began with the decision by stewards Pitts and Edward Litzenberger to allow Dear Rossi, an odds-on choice in the third race at Pimlico Saturday, to compete despite having run off at top speed in the post parade. Dear Rossi finished out of the money after $98,000 was bet on him in the win, place and show and exacta pools.
Commissioner Robert Furtick called the stewards' stand to inquire why the horse had been allowed to run.
Pitts said today he took the advice of the state veterinarian, Dr. James Murphy, that Dear Rossi was in good condition and allowed the horse to compete. It was the manner in which Pitts is alleged to have responded to Furtick's query that brought the suspension.
Said Banning, "After all, Commissioner Furtick is his (Pitts') supedior and should be given the respect due him."
Pitts, a former steeplechase rider, and a steward for less than two years, said, "I thought I spoke with Mr. Furtick as respectful as I could. We were under the strain of making several important decisiions, but I believe I spoke with civility."
Dr. Murphy said Dear Rossi "was not injured. He was not breathing unusually hard and I told that to Mr. Pitts."
Commissioner Ann Mahoney said she made "a motion that all three stewards be penalized. After all, there were only two stewards in the stand during the running of that race and each was aware that no important decision can be made without three judges. They all broke the rules of racing.
State Steward J. Fred Colwill was not in the judge's stand because he had bred Shadow Shah, one of the 12 horses in Saturday's third race. Colwill was to have been replaced by surrogate steward Thomas Baker, who did not appear.
Banning said the suspension of Pitts was not connected with Pitts' decision not to scratch Dear Rossi, or the fact only two stewards were present for the race.