King of chucks blamed

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

On a night when Kelly (The King) Sutherland is usually reaping praise for another Rangeland Derby title, the sport's biggest name was being blamed for a Saturday wreck that killed three horses, put a driver in hospital and sent everyone else in the barns into a tizzy.

Following a review of the crash that saw three of Gary Gorst's horses die and Tyler Helmig thrown from his driver's box, Stampede officials announced the chuckwagon legend is the man responsible for it all.

Judges initially blamed the seventh-heat mishap on Ray Mitsuing by assessing him 25 seconds in penalties. But the Stampede then suspended the 10-time Rangeland Derby winner indefinitely for driving too aggressively.

And no one is happy with the ruling.

"No, I'm most definitely not satisfied with the results," spat Mitsuing, upset he wasn't cleared of wrongdoing.

"A one-day suspension? That's peanuts for what he did. They know he's guilty. They said the rulebook says they can't remove any penalties. The penalties are still hanging over my head, and there's nothing anybody can do to fix it. I'm totally frustrated."

Stampede spokesman Lindsey Galloway said the incident started when Sutherland cut Mitsuing off, prompting the wreck with Gorst that sent Helmig flying.

"Coming into the first turn, Kelly drove his team too aggressively towards the rail which resulted in Ray moving towards Gary Gorst's team," said Galloway, who refused to let Mitsuing off the hook.

"Our assessment was that (Mitsuing) was travelling too close to Gary Gorst's team and there wasn't enough room for him to react -- the penalties assessed were appropriate.

"We're sending a strong signal to everybody involved that we will not tolerate anything that compromises the safety of animals or competitors."

Sutherland says they're bowing to pressure.

"They're saying I have to assume some responsibility for that accident because I was one of two guys who finished the race and because of my demeanour and my aggressive nature to win -- it's not fair," said Sutherland, who got a call from Cindy Helmig informing him Tyler had elbow and hip surgery.

"The fact of the matter is I don't mind being noted to be aggressive -- you don't win ten Calgary Stampedes and nine world titles without being aggressive.

"I did not cause the wreck, and that's what's important to me. It was driver error, and the driver was penalized."

While animal rights protesters showed up, as usual, to voice their displeasure, Gorst was even more angry over the developments that not only cost him three horses but hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's a laugh," shot Gorst, who will get $2,500 in compensation for each dead horse in an outfit that would have been worth at least a quarter-million dollars.

Sutherland has not been fined for the incident that could end up costing him a spot in next year's races.

"When we get closer to Stampede next year and we think about the invitation list, we'll evaluate the situation," said Galloway, hinting Sutherland's hunt for a record-setting 11th Rangeland title could be put on hold.

Galloway took time to praise Chanse Vigen, the outrider who jumped onto Helmig's rig to prevent further carnage.

"He's a hero -- he risked his life for the safety of others," said Galloway.

"His team was penalized for an outrider that failed to finish, which is rather ironic, but it doesn't take away from his heroism."

Again, few in the barns were happy last night.


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