Maybe, just maybe, a five-year struggle came to an end for Derek Bell on Thursday, and he can resume his life on the racing circuit.
Bell has been conducting an unending battle since being ruled off the track at Tampa Bay Downs along with several other riders in January of 2007 for undisclosed charges.
Those charges were later dropped and Bell was cleared of any wrongdoing, yet he was still prohibited from riding at Tampa Bay, in Kentucky and Arlington Park among other sites.
He has basically ridden only at Canterbury Park, Hawthorne Race Course and in Indiana in the years since.
His name was flagged whenever it came up in racing offices across the nation and he was unable to have that flag removed or to find its source. After riding at Gulfstream Park several years ago, he was told the flag had been removed, but it had not. Whenever he tried to find the source of the flag in the time since, he ran into dead ends.
Finally on Thursday, with the assistance of Terri Hoffrogge, who is filling in for Tiffany Leggett in the horsemen’s bookkeeping office, the flag was removed. She was of the opinion that the matter simply kept falling through the tracks whenever someone attempted to handle it.
Apparently, one office would pass it on to the next without results.
Bell was cautiously hopeful that this final element will open the way for him to resume riding at racetracks from which he has been excluded, including such places as Delaware and Oaklawn Park.
“We’ll see,” he said, pleased with Thursday’s accomplishment but still uncertain about what to expect. He said he has already inquired about riding again at Tampa Bay Downs but was turned down.
This development accompanies a letter he received shortly before the Shakopee meet informing him that the case had been closed.
Hoffrogge said that Bell came into her office a couple of days ago and asked if she would look into the matter for him. So, she talked to his attorney and began making calls to determine where things had fallen through the cracks.
She tracked the origination of the flag down to Pennsylvania. It took more than a single call but Hoffrogge finally made contact with the Pennsylvania Racing Commission and the flag was removed.
That news in and of itself puzzled Bell. “I’ve never ridden in that state,” he said. “I don’t know how that happened.”
Nonetheless, Bell was clearly pleased with the news on Thursday. He will leave when the local meet concludes on Monday for a five-day fishing trip to Canada with renewed hope that he will be riding at a track of his choice this autumn.
“We’ll see,” he said. “This has been going on for a long time, way too long. Hopefully, it is done now.”
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography