OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Dr. Sandra Dixon, a Lasix veterinarian for the New York Racing Association, was fired for what she was told was “a conflict of interest” potentially stemming from the fact she is the mother-in-law of trainer Rob Atras.
Atras, a former assistant to Robertino Diodoro, went out on his own in January and has won nine races from 15 starters at the Aqueduct meet. Atras is married to the former Brittney Dixon, who is Sandra’s daughter. Brittney Atras works as an assistant to her husband, who maintains a 10-horse stable at Belmont Park.
According to Sandra Dixon, she was visiting a friend in the NYRA stewards’ office on Feb. 8 and was asked by a NYRA official what she was doing there. Dixon said she was going to watch a race on television in which her daughter’s horse was running. That horse, Science Fiction, won that day’s sixth race.
Dixon said she was summoned the next day to NYRA’s human resources department. Two meetings and eight days later, on Feb. 16, Dixon was escorted off the grounds by NYRA security and told she could not be on the grounds of a NYRA track for 90 days.
“What she was told is this was solely a matter of family status,” said attorney Karen Murphy, whom Dixon has retained. “That can’t be the basis to discriminate against somebody without more. There’s absolutely no more.”
Dixon said she was told her termination did not have anything to do with her job performance.
“I was assured more than once that my work performance was not at issue and not a problem,” Dixon said.
Dixon said she had been upfront with NYRA about her daughter’s marital status and whom she worked for since Brittney began working at NYRA last year, first for Linda Rice then for Diodoro, for whom she began working for last July at Saratoga.
According to Steve Lewandowski, the steward for the New York Gaming Commission, Dixon’s veterinary license is in good standing.
Dixon, 53, joined NYRA in November 2017 as a Lasix veterinarian. NYRA has three Lasix vets and each is given daily assignments regarding which horses to administer Lasix, which is given 4 to 4 1/2 hours out from a horse’s race. The Lasix vets do this administration independent of an examining veterinarian, who checks for soundness.
Dixon said that she has administered Lasix to Atras-trained horses on three occasions.
NYRA, in the early 2000s, was the first track to institute a third-party Lasix veterinarian. A Lasix vet also draws blood for pre-race and out-of-competition testing.
A Lasix vet is not required to be on the frontside to do his or her work. There are offices in barns on the backside of both Belmont and Aqueduct at which Lasix vets record what they’ve done on a given morning and also pick up their assignments for the following day.
However, Dixon said she was never told she was not permitted to be on the frontside whether on or off the clock.
Asked if she felt her son-in-law’s meteoric success was a factor in her termination, Dixon said, “I can’t speculate if things would be handled differently if he was 0 for 14. I don’t know.”
Murphy said she is hoping to get a meeting with NYRA officials to further discuss Dixon’s firing. Murphy is suggesting that NYRA simply doesn’t assign Dixon to treat any of Atras’s horses.
Murphy said NYRA’s legal department “is in a positon to say ‘Okay we have this decision, let’s accommodate our vet of a year who’s done a great job and make sure if there’s any appearance of a conflict – even if it’s not actual conflict – let’s change up the routes.’”
Through a spokesman, NYRA declined comment.
On its website, NYRA posts a code of ethics, which, in part, reads “It is important to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, which may occur when a reasonable observer might assume there is a conflict of interest and, therefore, a loss of objectivity while acting on behalf of NYRA. … Likewise, we should all endeavor to pursue a course of conduct that will not raise suspicion among the public that we are likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of any trust.”
Murphy said this termination would be a stain on Dixon’s résumé should she seek future employment.
“We want her job back and for her reputation to be restored,” Murphy said. “This is just 100 percent wrong and the consequences are 100 percent significant.”
Dixon said she would like to return to work to NYRA.
“I like my job,” Dixon said. “I built a life here.”
NYRA has already advertised for a Lasix vet position.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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