Kirk Ziadie

Kirk Ziadie, to the surprise of almost no one, had an administrative law judge in Florida recommend that he be suspended for six years and fined $18,000 for a series of clenbuterol violations.

Clenbuterol is a legal therapeutic medication in Florida. It functions as a decongestant and bronchodilator, and can have anabolic (muscle growth promoting) effects. Clenbuterol has long been a controversial medication in horseracing. It’s even been banned in some places (New  Mexico).

Ziadie was cited for multiple violations, and in his defense he pleaded stubborn.

In 2013 horsemen were told by Florida to increase their withdrawal time for clenbuterol from five days to 14. Despite the “advice” Ziadie continued to run his horses five days after he gave them clenbuterol, and subsequently had six positives.

In testimony, Ziadie said he chose not to change to the new, longer withdrawal time.

Ziadie said to the law judge, “I was still stuck on the five days, your honor. I was stubborn. I know I did wrong. I know that there was a rumor and I know there was a brochure going around—14 days—but I was trying to do the best for my horses. I thought that if was the medication that they needed at the time when we were racing and I take blame for being stubborn and making a mistake, but I did keep it at five days.”

Ziadie made an effort to get the samples thrown out, and succeeded for the blood samples. But the urine samples stayed in and revealed 18 violations. Ziadie was pretty much up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

I’m not seeing any way he wiggles out of this one. He called it stubborn, it just as easily could have been called arrogant, putting his head in the sand or something more nefarious. His statement showed that he really didn’t measure his actions with the same sense of gravity that the administrative judge noted. In his decision, the administrative judge said that while clenbuterol has some therapeutic value, its adverse effects and excessive use present a danger to racing thoroughbreds.

You can’t have it both ways. It’s either a useful therapeutic or a dangerous drug. The administrative judge can believe whatever he wants, but as long as the drug was legal, limit the commentary to the relevant facts of the case. As for racing, make up your mind about whether clenbuterol should be legal, let trainers know, and let’s move on.

Where I want to zero in is with the responsibilities of track management and enforcing authorities. Ziadie made the decision to engage in wrongful behavior, but all of Ziadie’s violations were as a result of post-race testing and not anything proactive.

Ziadie was ultimately charged with 18 violations. You can see Ziadie as a serial cheater – you don’t commit 18 violations and claim it was totally unintended – but how does the violation count get to 18 before someone takes action?

At the end of the day, a violation that never occurs is infinitely better than having to take an enforcement action after the fact. Racetracks can do so much more to prevent violations than they are currently doing. Let’s start with the obvious.

Closed circuit cameras should be mandatory on the backside. Not every track has them, and even when they are available the storage times are not always long enough to ensure a violation can be matched with a video record. It does no good to recycle tapes every 15 days if it takes 30 days to notify a trainer of a violation. Regardless of trainer responsibility rules, if a trainer has video evidence that a horse was tampered with, that should form an affirmative defense if a violation is measured.

The stewards should be conducting regular, unannounced inspections. You cannot convince me that authorities are totally in the dark about what goes on in the stable area. When A.C. Avila was investigated for an acepromazine violation for the horse Masochistic, investigators found a plastic bin full of medications/drugs, many of which were unmarked. They may have never found the bin without the prompting of Masochistic’s violation. That sort of thing needs to be cleaned up before it gets out of hand, and regular, unannounced inspections would go a long way to help trainers pay closer attention.

The authorities need to have trained, professional investigators available. Many of the cases I’ve looked at had poorly trained and barely competent investigators. While some may argue the burden of proof after a positive test rests with the trainer, I believe the track owes it to the betting public and other trainers to get to the bottom of some cases, especially cases where there was no way the trainer could have administered the offending substance. You will never fully gain the public trust when you leave too many questions unanswered or you fail to punish the right people.

Random drug testing should be mandatory for workers on the backside. Given the number of potential cases of environmental cross-contamination that occur, the authorities need to know potential sources of the contamination. And obviously tracks should help establish and fund support groups for those with drug problems.

Pre-race testing programs should be established, especially for trainers who have had previous positives. As I said, a violation prevented is infinitely more valuable than a post-race positive.

All medications/drugs should come from a single track pharmacy, and veterinarians should be required to keep detailed records on medications purchased and used, and there should be regular audits on those records. This is really the most important thing tracks could do. When people ask how we can be more like Hong Kong, an obvious answer is that we can make sure every regulated compound given by a veterinarian to a horse is catalogued, the records are kept permanently, and the track has unlimited access to the records. If Florida had Kirk Ziadies’s records and had seen that he was dosing horses with Clenbuterol five days before a race, they could have intervened before things got so far out of hand. Or maybe Ziadie would have never been “stubborn” had he known he was on record. What happened to the administering veterinarian in all this? Did he not know about the new clenbuterol advice? Did he tell Ziadie? Did he refuse to administer clenbuterol because he knew it would likely result in positive post-race tests? And if the vet (or Ziadie) was required to buy from a single source and the amounts being bought were documented, wouldn’t the racing officials have the necessary heads-up to investigate? And any horse that shows up with a drug/medication that is not in the official log could earn the trainer additional penalties. Veterinarians could also be subject to penalties for not properly logging medications.

Perhaps you haven’t thought about it in that way, but the fact that tracks are not as proactive as they could be means the number of violations is higher than it has to be. For those who are indignant about drugs in racing and rail about trainers, there are more solutions than just waiting for the trainer to come up with a positive post-race test. For all the people who “knew” Kirk Ziadie must have been doing something to gain an edge, did you also call for the track to do more than just wait for Ziadie to get caught?

If you believe drugs in racing are a scourge, why would you not favor stopping as many violations as possible before they happen by using technology, proactive intervention, and tighter control over how horses are being medicated? The trainer may get the ultimate blame for a medication violation, but track management and the enforcing authorities are not without opportunities to keep at least some violations from ever becoming news. Let’s hold them all to a higher standard.