Court Rules Pa. Tracks Can Bar Sipp The Controversial Trainer Raced For A Year With A State License. That License Now Is Useless.

Posted: July 20, 1994

Burton Sipp, the horse trainer who was banned from racing in 1984 and reinstated in Pennsylvania last year, has been put out of business at thoroughbred tracks in the state.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, upholding appeals by the Bensalem Racing Association (Philadelphia Park) and Penn National Turf Club, last week denied Sipp access to the only two thoroughbred tracks in the state.

"Sipp's record is so deplorable," wrote Judge James Gardner Colins in a 15-page opinion, "that there was clearly reasonable justification for (the tracks') ejection of Sipp."

Sipp's lawyer, Alan Pincus, said he was considering taking the case to a higher court.

Sipp's license had been suspended indefinitely in 1984, after 74 fines, 12 suspensions, complaints of forgery, kickbacks and insurance fraud, and a conviction on a charge of witness tampering.

Last year, Pincus persuaded the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission that Sipp deserved one more chance. Sipp was licensed for a three-year period, the first year of which was conditional. He completed his conditional year successfully.

In almost a year of racing at Philadelphia Park, he was cited for no violations, received no fines, no suspensions, stirred no new controversy, had no arguments, and wasn't called in by a steward.

But in his ruling, Colins said that Sipp's presence at the tracks is ''detrimental to the best interest of horse racing, taints the image of the industry," and "fosters a tawdry image."

Pincus said the court's decision not only was sad, but dangerous.

"Besides ruining Sipp, it's an invitation that any time a track decides to, it can kick 'em off," Pincus said. "They're going to be able to terrorize anybody they want. If the tracks can throw them off, then they have the final word in licensing.

"His Pennsylvania license is now nothing more than a piece of plastic. It's like being licensed to drive a car, but not being allowed on the roads."

The decision delighted officials at both tracks and, in particular, Hart Stotter, the former state racing commissioner who had advocated Sipp's suspension in the early '80s.

"This restores my faith in the Pennsylvania court system," Stotter said. ''The message that the commission sent out was just all wrong. That's the worst thing in the world they could have done. This is really a welcome verdict, and I have to respect the race tracks for taking them to court."

Phil O'Hara, vice president of operations at Penn National, near Harrisburg, said his track appealed the commission's order to protect its nearly 2,000 employees. Penn National had defied the commission's order and refused to let Sipp on the grounds.

"Once someone has jeopardized all of our livelihoods . . . we feel it's more important to protect the rights of the 2,000 people than the one person who has already proven that he really didn't care about the rest of us," O'Hara said.

Harry Rossi, counsel for Philadelphia Park, said the court decision was gratifying. "We were convinced not only of our right to exclude Mr. Sipp, but that our reasons given for ejecting him were valid," he said.

Sipp was banned worldwide after accumulating a record of violations that measured four feet on a computer printout, some no more serious than arriving late at the paddock. But other violations included entering ineligible horses, threatening others with bodily harm, falsifying documents, forging health certificates, and supervising a horse owned by a disqualified person. In 1981, he was suspended for 60 days on a horse-drugging charge.

His license was taken away by the New Jersey Racing Commission in 1984 after he was indicted by a Burlington County grand jury on charges of insurance fraud. He was accused of submitting $142,000 in inflated insurance claims on nine horses that died while in his care from 1980 to 1984.

The 20-count indictment was dropped in a plea bargain. Sipp pleaded guilty to attempting to prevent a witness from testifying against him in the insurance fraud case. In exchange, New Jersey dropped the insurance fraud case, but revoked his license indefinitely, sentenced him to five years of probation, and fined him $7,500. Because bans in racing are reciprocal, that meant Sipp was barred from racing everywhere.

The new controversy started when Sipp, having served out his probation, wanted his license back. New Jersey didn't license him, but agreed to give him the right to apply. He applied in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Park allowed him to race, but denied him the use of stalls at the track. He was forced to rent space here and there at horse farms, train his horses on inadequate surfaces, van them to the track for published workouts, and back and forth again for races.

But after nine years in forced exile, making a living with his pet store and Animal Kingdom zoo on a farm in Springfield Township, Burlington County, the 50-year-old trainer gladly handled the inconveniences. He was racing again. "I love it," he said. "It's in my blood."

With the help of some of his former owners, he put together a stable of 30 horses and has had reasonable success on the track.

From January to June, he saddled 79 runners, and 47 percent of them finished in the money.

Sipp, who said he lost virtually everything he had worked for during his nine-year exile - wife, money, friends - said he hasn't given up.

"There are other places," he said. He wouldn't name any.

New Jersey isn't likely to be one of them.

The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office stated that it agreed to the plea bargain in 1984 for one reason: to remove Sipp from the New Jersey racing industry.

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