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RMTC Response to Roy Sedlacek Post

A week ago I posted a piece on trainer Roy Sedlacek pleading guilty to the use of a supplement containing the banned Class A drug, AH-7921. In that post I criticized the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) for not being more proactive in the testing of supplements. RMTC sent me a response to the column and that response, unedited, is shown below.

Let me first say that we are on the same page when it comes to illegal, performance enhancing drugs in racing. Ensuring trainers are not administering illegal substances to horses is critical to protect the integrity of racing. While I have (deservedly) taken some of the racing commissions to task for how they dealt with certain medication/drug cases (but have not criticized the test results or testing labs), I have consistently said that trainers who knowingly administer substances with the intent to gain a performance edge should be dealt with harshly. In my recent blog on H.R. 3084 (http://halveyonhorseracing.com/?p=2580) I also supported HBPA, ARCI, WHOA and other groups working in concert to deal with drug and medication issues. A theme in my blogs is that there needs to be a combined proactive effort to educate horsemen about drugs, medications and supplements. 

I’m certainly not looking to get into a non-productive back and forth. RMTC had a legitimate point that my blog may have made it sound as if they were doing nothing on supplement testing. Clearly they are, and I have revised the Sedlacek blog post to make that clear. You can make up your own mind whether the efforts they discuss below to test supplements are sufficient.

I certainly had no issue with the testing New York did to find AH-7921 in Sedlacek’s horses, and it’s comforting to hear RMTC is trying to find tests for previously undetectable substances, although nothing in my blog made any criticism of NY or RMTC for their post-race testing work. It was disappointing to hear that RMTC does not issue  some sort of public notification every time they detect a new illegal substance, especially because the number one issue for many horseplayers is the perception that there is rampant use of undetectable, illegal substances in horseracing. It may be just my opinion, but knowing RMTC is aggressively responding to the perception is critical to the long term health of the game. How will we know unless they make an effort to get the results of their work out there? If there is one thing that has been consistent in my blogs, it is the need for transparency in all aspects of enforcement.

I would concede that my statement in the blog, “…if they were really serious about cleaning up the sport they would be ordering Lightning Injection and the rest of these unregulated supplements and testing them,” could be interpreted in the extreme as telling them they needed to purchase every compound on the internet for testing. Even if that is the ideal, it may or may not be asking for too much. I’ve revised the Roy Sedlacek blog to make it clear when I am talking about ARCI and RMTC, and have clarified thoughts about testing supplements based on the RMTC comments.

I’m not sure how many supplements there are out there – horseprerace.com listed 373 products, but many of them appeared to be repeats, double listings and size differences, so maybe 150-200 unique products on that site. While I’m not sure the number of products out there is too daunting to put on a regular testing schedule, the RMTC comments did reinforce the point I made about supplements – they are unregulated, often do not contain the listed amounts of ingredients, and can be contaminated. You can test two bottles of the same product and come up with different results. Still, even that is worth knowing for trainers and the public. If you want to minimize the impact of these supplement manufacturers, the best way to do it is to hoist them on their own petards by showing they are inconsistent and possibly dangerous.

We all know there are snake oil peddlers active at racetracks, armed with their own “studies” about the efficacy or safety of their products. It is important for the RMTC to reinforce that they are fighting fire with fire by informing trainers and the public of the testing they are doing. Even the RMTC assertion that of the 100 unknown substances they have tested in the past few years, “[only] three have had anything more than sterile water, preservatives, sugars, and amino acids or various combinations of specially compounded common medications,” should validate a more aggressive testing program because it is just as useful for trainers to know they are snake oil as they contained illegal substances. Trainers are using these supplements because somewhere they got the idea they work, and they’ll keep using them until it is proven they don’t. 

Current post race testing yields less than 0.5% positives, and 0.01% positives for Class 1 and 2 substances. The testing of 100 supplements referenced in the RMTC letter apparently yielded 3% illegal substances. It would be absurd to argue that we should substantially limit post race testing, even based on those results, and I would say three out of 100 supplements is also worth the effort, regardless of the difficulties.

I’ll end where I started. The work of the RMTC is a critical part of cleaning up the game, and they are to be lauded for what they do. But I still believe they could do much more, and I still believe we spend far too much trying to catch trainers after the fact, and not nearly enough on proactive, pre-emptive research. At the end of the day, a violation avoided is worth far more than a violation punished. Get the information out there to the public and the trainers about the effectiveness and results of RMTC and it will benefit the game.

As for making a donation, all of us horseplayers are already “donating” 15 to 30 cents of every dollar we bet. I suggest you start by convincing the people that divvy up the booty to give you a larger cut, and if you want my support on that, you’ve got it.

The RMTC response is below.

 

RMTC Response to Roy Sedlacek Post

I recently read Rich Halvey’s commentary in halveyonhorseracing.com regarding the recent positives called in New York for AH-7921.  In response, I would like to take Mr. Halvey’s statements regarding the RMTC to task and encourage him to reach out to us at the RMTC before he posts another misinformed piece.

First and foremost, while it is commendable that the New York Drug Testing Laboratory found AH-7921 in post-race samples, it is certainly not novel or unexpected. Horseracing testing laboratories have been aware of this substance and have been testing for it for several years. Developing methods for finding new substances is a requirement for RMTC Accreditation. As a result, the RMTC Accredited Laboratories are continually working to find tests for previously undetectable substances. Even though  a press release is not issued every time a new drug is detected or a new test is developed, that does not mean we are not finding new substances and developing new tests daily.   

 Second, RMTC does order a myriad of substances that are available via the internet – in addition to those provided to the RMTC by trainers, veterinarians or racing jurisdictions. These are tested for the presence of prohibited substances.   Some of the findings are rather interesting so we are not surprised Mr. Sedlacek purchased what he thought was ITPP and ended up with an AH-7921 positive. In the past three years, the RMTC has greatly increased its focus on an area we call Tactical Research. As a part of that Tactical Research, the RMTC has tested:

  •  Many substances purchased on the internet by RMTC or trainers on behalf of RMTC;
  • Several substances anonymously mailed to the RMTC by trainers;
  • Over 30 substances confiscated during barn and veterinarian truck searches in New Mexico – in which RMTC staff personally participated;
  • Numerous substances confiscated in Florida;
  • Two substances confiscated from a barn in Delaware and identified dichloroacetic acid and tadalafil; and
  • Individual substances that were submitted by numerous jurisdictions.

Just in the last few months, the RMTC has submitted three substances from three separate jurisdictions to RMTC Accredited Laboratories for analysis. Moreover, the RMTC works with many states and racetracks that are willing to spend their own funds to have substances analyzed in horse racing laboratories. RMTC has developed a protocol that we follow and that we share with others to use in requesting these services.

Of the nearly one hundred unknown substances that RMTC or individual jurisdictions have tested in the past few years, only three have had anything more than sterile water, preservatives, sugars, and amino acids or various combinations of specially compounded common medications. Two of those were for the substances submitted by Delaware. The final one was from a trainer who anonymously submitted a colorless injectable liquid.

In his article, Mr. Halvey suggests that the RMTC purchase every compound on every website for testing. While a portion of our Tactical Research budget is used for that purpose – it is one of the least fruitful areas. This is because the substances on these websites are unregulated, fringe sources.  That means that there is no expectation of consistency in the products. Because of this, formulations and additives can change based upon what is cheap, available, or fashionable in the drug maker’s mind. Thus, even testing these products once will be insufficient. This is why we test these substances continuously.

Furthermore, the RMTC does much more with its Tactical Research budget than just testing substances. With Tactical Research funds, the RMTC has funded:

  •  Research regarding cobalt for the development of an endogenous threshold;
  • Research for gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) for the development of an endogenous threshold;
  • Development of a dermorphin standard so that all laboratories were able to detect and identify it; and
  • Research on hair testing – with the goal of testing for illicit substances using a methodology that allows for long-term detection.

In sum, the RMTC views emerging threats seriously. In the past three years we have dedicated significant time and resources to researching these and other areas of horse safety and racing integrity and with support from across the horse racing industry, we will continue doing so in the future. As for funding these important endeavors, I encourage Mr. Halvey and everyone interested in racing integrity to visit www.rmtcnet.com to make a donation.  

 Hallie Roach Lewis

Communications & Development

Racing Medication & Testing Consortium

Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015

There has been a lot of discussion about the Barr-Tonko legislation (H.R. 3084) and whether it is necessary to improve racing. The primary proponent of the legislation is the Coalition for Horseracing Integrity. The Coalition represents a diverse group of horse racing and animal welfare organizations including The Jockey Club, Breeders’ Cup Ltd., the Water Hay Oats Alliance, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders.

On the other side, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) oppose the legislation.

Ostensibly, the Bill is supposed to improve the integrity and safety of Thoroughbred horseracing by requiring a uniform anti-doping program to be developed and enforced by an independent Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority (THADA). While it is true there is not absolute uniformity across jurisdictions currently, all or part of the groups that favor the legislation must also believe horseracing in its current form is corrupt, inept, unsafe or all three, a conclusion that flies in the face of statistics published by ARCI. Why else would we need federal legislation unless the only thing standing between failure and prosperity is regulatory uniformity, and the only way to get it was HR 3084?

Less than one-half of one percent of all urine and blood tests come back with a positive for a substance overage, and of those only a very small percentage are not related to approved therapeutic medications. In other words, on the face of it, the urgency of Barr-Tonko is that the handful of Class 1 or 2 violations (out of the hundreds of thousands of races run every year) not related to therapeutic medication or environmental contamination are convincing proof the system needs serious repair.To believe these statistics are wrong, you have to believe either

  • Like many of the people in the recently completed DRF survey, you are convinced that no matter what statistics say, trainers are spiking their horses with great regularity and getting away with it; or
  • ARCI is corrupt and hiding the real numbers; or
  • The jurisdictions are selective or inconsistent in their enforcement; or
  • Testing labs are either incompetent, hiding results, or simply not testing for the right performance enhancing substances.

Although the legislation doesn’t say this overtly, it is hard not to conclude there may be one other purpose – to deal with the issue of raceday Lasix. It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. It appears WHOA and the animal welfare folks are not simply hoping to add a layer of bureaucracy on top of that which already exists in the states, but to have one place where they can finally tell all the recalcitrant racing commissions that Lasix four hours before a race is no longer allowed.

Let’s look at the important elements of the bill.

The highlight of the legislation is the establishment of the THADA. THADA is supposed to be independent (whatever that means exactly) and is responsible for developing and administering an anti-doping program for horses, persons and races covered by the Act. I’ll detail just how that differs from the current organization for drug testing below.

The THADA is supposed to be composed of

  • The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency;
  • Five U.S. ADA board members;
  • Five individuals from different constituencies of the thoroughbred industry.

The U.S. ADA is required to solicit lists of two candidates each from a cross-section of owners, trainers, veterinarians, racing associations, State racing commissions and jockeys. That’s five representatives from six constituencies. It also suggests the U.S. ADA should make an effort to include the most broadly based organization(s) from each constituency.

Notice any group missing? That’s right, the one group that provides the funding for the sport and is most affected by horses that race with illegal levels of medications or drugs, the betting public.

Notice anything else? More than 50% of the THADA is made up of people who were appointed to the U.S. ADA. I looked at each of the members. You have ex-Olympic athletes, a couple of medical doctors, a lawyer, a swimming coach, someone with drug-free kids, and a college professor in sports management. In other words, not one single person who is familiar with horseracing or the use of medications in racing in any sort of depth. You have a majority of non-racing experts to counterbalance the minority of potential experts.

Since the THADA is interested in avoiding any appearance of conflict of interest, the Bill requires nominees to not have a financial interest in, or provide goods and services to covered horses. Officials, officers or anyone else that works in policymaking or governance for any throughbred industry representative are similarly disallowed. Finally, any employees or people having a business relationship with the individuals or organizations described above are also disallowed.

Huh? I must not be reading this right, because it seems to say all the groups that are supposed to be on the board – owners, trainers, vets, racing associations, State racing Commissions and jockeys – appear to be immediately disqualified because they are associated with racing.

This is the exact language:

(c) CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.—To avoid any conflict of interest, no nominee or board member shall be—

(1) an individual who has a financial interest in or provides goods or services to covered horses;

(2) an official, officer, or serve in any governance or policymaking capacity for any Thoroughbred industry representative; or

(3) an employee or have a business or commercial relationship with any of the individuals or organizations described in paragraphs (1) or (2).

You can tell me if I am not reading that correctly.

The Bill also provides for the development of Standing Committees comprised of experts. I mention this only because the function of such committees eventually becomes a cost center.

The duties of the THADA will include

(1) lists of permitted and prohibited substances and methods;

(2) a schedule of sanctions for violations;

(3) programs relating to anti-doping research and education;

(4) testing procedures, standards, and protocols for both in-competition and out-of-competition testing;

(5) procedures for investigating, charging, and adjudicating violations and for the enforcement of sanctions for violations; and

(6) laboratory standards for accreditation and testing requirements, procedures, and protocols.

This is pretty standard stuff – in fact, it pretty much is what racing commissions do now. However, bear in mind, that any group with a specific agenda would now only have to convince the THADA to make a rule instead of 38 jurisdictions.

Also, consider one other thing. U.S. law does not apply in Canada. What do we do if Woodbine doesn’t adopt the same standards as THADA?

The authority of THADA is limited by the Bill. While they can decide which substances are permitted and prohibited, what the penalties should be for violations, what testing procedures should be, and how violations should be investigated, charged, adjudicated and enforced, they can’t actually do the work themselves. For that they would be dependent on the States. Perhaps not the most efficient organizational structure.

So to this point we have a THADA board primarily comprised of people outside of horseracing, with no representative from the primary funding group, with the same duties and responsibilities that current racing commissions have for developing drug and medication standards and associated penalties.

While THADA makes the rules and decides HOW they should be investigated, prosecuted, adjudicated and penalized, they leave the actual work of doing those things to the state racing commissions. Once again, the implication is that the state racing commissions are not getting it right, and need to be told what to investigate, how to investigate, and how to punish.

As has been noted, the centerpiece of the Bill is the anti-doping program. The program is required to include

(1) a uniform set of anti-doping rules;

(2) a list of permitted and prohibited substances and methods;

(3) a process for sample collection and analysis and test distribution;

(4) programs for in-competition and out-of-competition testing (including no-advance-notice testing and mandatory reporting of each horse’s location for testing);

(5) investigations related to anti-doping rule violations;

(6) management of violation results;

(7) laboratory accreditation; and

(8) disciplinary hearings, which may include binding arbitration, sanctions, research and education.

Once again, this is pretty much what racing commissions are responsible for now, although if you look at number (4) it seems like they grabbed the language right out of the U.S. ADA handbook. Olympic athletes can be tested anytime they are in training. It will be interesting to see how it goes to test horses as they are coming back to the barn after a gallop just to see if they were juiced up for the exercise. I mean the whole point of horseracing testing is to ensure a horse is not RACING with an illegal level or illegal substance. This out-of-competition testing may make sense for human athletes, but I’m not so sure knowing a horse is at 29 nanograms of Banamine after a workout should be grounds for an enforcement action. All the statistics and all the current testing suggest that unlike, say, cycling, horses are not juicing with steroids and EPOs, and even if they were, they’d get caught on raceday. Unlike most sports, horseracing has zero-tolerance for the kind of performance enhancing substances they are interested in controlling in cycling or the Olympics. Plus, considering how much it is costing just to test horses from a race, how much more would it cost to institute random testing between races?

THADA includes the absolute insurers rule in concept. The problem with the absolute insurers rule in the modern environment is that there are counter measures available to determine instances when the trainer is not responsible for a horse’s bad test. Things like security cameras should be mandatory. Drug testing for backside workers should be required, especially in cases where the measured level indicates an environmental contamination. Pro-active testing of common supplements, including feed, should be required. Requirements for investigations on the part of the enforcing agency need to be incorporated into rules. Once again, there is a missed opportunity to fix the weak parts of current regulations.

The Bill allows THADA to enter into an agreement with the State racing commissions to implement any of the rules developed by the THADA. While the racing commissions cannot be trusted to make the rules, apparently they can be given a chance to enforce the rules. In essence, things look about like they do now, except THADA decides what the rules are. In that case, the existing labs that are doing the sample testing will wind up being the labs doing the testing under the new THADA regime. After all, the states will still be responsible for sample collection and transport to the lab. One more thing that looks like the status quo and obviates the need for overlying federal legislation.

The really bad news is that the Bill states, Nothing in this Act requires the United States Government to provide funding for or to guarantee the debts of the Authority. The funds necessary for the establishment and administration of the Thoroughbred horseracing anti-doping program shall be paid entirely by the Thoroughbred horseracing industry…

The initial funding of the THADA would be done using donations and loans that would be paid back by assessing each jurisdiction a monthly payment. That payment would then be used for the continuing funding of the THADA. I don’t have a calculation handy, but considering the state payments have to fund the operation of THADA and all it’s standing communities, the only thing that stands between us an a multi-million dollar authority is the frugality of the appointed board.

If for no other reason, every serious horseplayer should oppose the legislation because unless states give up a portion of the take going to their operations (not likely since in the end they don’t really have less to do) the take will have to rise to cover the cost of running THADA. The number one issue for serious horseplayers is getting the take reduced, and anything that means it will be raised is not a good thing for us.

If the real purpose of the Bill was only to harmonize medication and drug testing and enforcement, there are avenues that could be explored short of federal legislation. In fact, I’m not sure we could successfully argue efforts to create uniform rules and standards have utterly failed. More and more jurisdictions are adopting ARCI’s uniform medication rules. While it may have taken time, ARCI may have succeeded in eventually getting all the major racing jurisdictions to harmonize.

Given who is supporting the Bill, it is hard to conclude anything other than the hidden agenda is the banning of raceday Lasix in all jurisdictions. Even if you favor a Lasix ban, it would be hard to sustain an argument that necessitated creation of an additional layer of oversight consisting primarily of people who know little about horseracing, and raising the already stiff amount horseplayers pay in the form of the takeout.

WHOA and the other Bill supporters are making an end run around the existing system because they have not been able to get their way by pushing the racing commissions. It is incumbent on these groups to make their argument irresistible if they expect to get their way.

The Barr-Tonko legislation in its current form is at the least flawed and at the most unnecessary. I believe most horseplayers would agree the discussion of medication and drug standards, enforcement, and punishment needs to occur. Harmonization of rules across jurisdictions should be part of that discussion. And when those discussions occur, ALL the stakeholders need to be represented. If HBPA, ARCI, WHOA and the rest of the Coalition for Horseracing Integrity don’t agree to start discussions with a sincere intent of reaching consensus, we may all find ourselves living in a regime none of us really wanted.

 

Roy Sedlacek

Long time trainer Roy Sedlacek has pled guilty to using a product containing the drug AH-7921.

For those of you not familiar with the drug – that would pretty much be all of us – according to Wikipedia, “AH-7921 is an opioid analgesic drug selective for the µ-opioid receptor, having around 80% the potency of morphine when administered orally.”

According to Matt Hegarty’s article in the Daily Racing Form, the drug would not only act as a painkiller, but also as a mild stimulant in horses. That sounds like the greatest illegal drug you could have come up with to give to racehorses. The horse feels no pain while simultaneously wanting to run all day.

AH-7921 was thought to have been developed in the 1970s by Allen and Hanburys as a strong pain reliever. It was never developed commercially, but experts have suggested the substance may have been re-created using information from archaic science reports.

According to toxicologist John Ramsey, “We don’t know anything about the health consequences of using these sort of things because no research has been done on it. It is generally accepted [AH-7921] could be hazardous and you have to go out of your way to find it.”

Speculation is that the drug is being synthesized in China and India and is being used as an ingredient in synthetic marijuana. Apparently, some of these supplement companies have also found it.

According to the DRF article, “Sedlacek testified [at his hearing] that he administered an oral substance to the two horses approximately three hours prior to post. Furthermore, Sedlacek said that he was under the belief that the substance, which he obtained from a website, contained “ITPP,” the acronym for a powerful performance-enhancing substance that is extraordinarily difficult to obtain but that is often inaccurately listed as an ingredient in products with highly dubious claims most often obtained from Internet companies.”

DRF looked on the “notorious” internet supplement seller site, horseprerace.com, in search of ITPP with no success. However, if you go to horseprerace.com, you’ll find that not only are they interested in helping the horseracing community, but greyhounds, camels, alpacas and racing pigeons. Perhaps the Barr-Tonko bill could be amended to include the rest of the menagerie of racing animals as part of any potential drug testing program. It certainly proves the point, if someone is betting on it, someone else is looking for a chemical edge. I mean, supplements for pigeons? Seriously?

I loved the product names at horseprerace.com. Here are some.

  • Blast Off Pressure (a diuretic to help EIPH), primarily ammonium chloride
  • Numb It, once known as the Purple Pain Injection. This stuff is so good, the formula is proprietary, so buy it at your own risk.
  • Game Time Injection to help your horse focus.
  • Lightning Injection (how can that be bad?)
  • Super Shot Injection, which apparently works as well on camels as horses.
  • Green Speed, something that produces a sense of euphoria and alertness.
  • And my favorite, Superfecta.

I don’t know about you, but it would be pretty tempting just to see if Lightning Injection could turn your average $12K claimer into the equine equivalent of the Flash.

None of the listed ingredients for the products I clicked on looked like synthetic morphine, but anyone who is familiar with the regulation of supplements knows that they are not required to have an FDA certification. All a firm is responsible for ensuring is that the products it manufactures or distributes are safe, any claims made about the products are not false or misleading and the products comply with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and FDA regulations in all other respects. However, the supplements may or may not contain the exact amounts of the specified ingredients and they may have contaminants. While there are reputable supplement manufacturers, there has always been variability in that market.

In Sedlacek’s case, it appears his intent was to try to gain an edge with supplements, so whether the product he bought listed AH-7921 or not is irrelevant. Whether he knew exactly what he was buying is equally irrelevant. He was likely offered a plea deal that limited his suspension to five years in return for a guilty plea – that happens all the time in most jurisdictions. There’ll be a lot of people screaming for a lifetime ban, lest everyone get the message that you can cheat and get off relatively easy, but there isn’t a criminal justice jusrisdiction that doesn’t plea bargain most of their cases, rightly or wrongly. Let’s hope the Commission knew what they were doing.

Given Sedlacek had started so few horses this year, the potential damage was limited. Still, there were a number of things I found bothersome. First, while I haven’t looked at the Commission hearing record, there has been nothing in the media to confirm Sedlacek identified the “oral substance” by name (other than to say whatever it was contained ITPP) so other horsemen would know not to use that product. Second, the Commission apparently didn’t provide the results of the test that found AH-7921. The head of the lab that found the drug was certain it was injected on raceday, but what’s the big secret? I have always believed racing fans have a right to know whether a trainer is being accused based on a level that is more likely cross-contamination, at such a level that the drug would have no efficacy, or definitely at a performance enhancing level, regardless of whether the trainer pled guilty or not guilty.

The groups that I would really like to take to task are ARCI (Association of Racing Commissioners International) and RMTC (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium). They know about the internet sites that are selling unregulated supplements, and RMTC has done some testing of supplements. Instead of racing commissions spending the largest part of their enforcement budget trying to catch “cheaters” after the fact, as part of continuously cleaning up the sport commissions should fund RMTC so that they can continue to regularly order Lightning Injection and as many of the more commonly used supplements as possible and continuously test them. The commissions should be funding studies on horses in training to determine if the claims of the supplement manufacturers hold any water. They would publish all the results of their testing and studies and send out bulletins to the horsemen with the results. If they found certain substances would cause positive tests, they would inform the horsemen immediately and put those substances on a banned list. Everyone involved needs to be proactive, not mainly reactive.

Why don’t the commissions take the initiative? RMTC would tell you it would not be cheap to do so because there are so many supplements out there, the supplement formulas constantly change, and testing in the past has not been fruitful in their opinion because of the low percentage of illegal substances found. However, if RMTC is finding illegal substances in any of the supplements they are testing (and they are), that should make the program valuable and necessary. I’ve also said in the past, if you can afford to do over 300,000 blood and urine tests a year, you can figure out a way to divert some of that testing money to research that would benefit the sport, and especially the horsemen. And you can’t tell me the horsemen wouldn’t be happy to to see research that could wind up preventing them getting the same five years Sedlacek got.

In my opinion, the problem is that ARCI does not see itself in partnership with the horsemen, but views the horsemen as the enemy. Instead of working together to prevent violations, ARCI seems far more focused on the enforcement part of the equation. They are beside themselves when they find a picogram violation of a therapeutic medication, but wouldn’t it be far more satisfying for them to say they helped to get a useless or dangerous substance out of the barns of trainers? Wouldn’t it have been better if Roy Sedlacek never had a positive test? Wouldn’t it instill confidence in horseplayers if they read that regulators, testing groups and horsemen worked together to get rid of some harmful supplement?

Don’t just put out an alert for jurisdictions to test for AH-7921. Get the supplement Roy Sedlacek used, test it, and if it contains Class 1 substances, make sure to tell trainers not to administer it. Is this really that hard?

DRF Survey

(Note: I want to make it clear up front that I thank the DRF for doing the survey referenced in this piece. It was an important effort and the questions they asked were very relevant. If I make some criticisms or attempts at humor below, they are not meant at the expense of DRF. They did their job and it is up to us to continue the discussion.) 

The Daily Racing Form (DRF) released the results of an online survey on the priorities horseracing must address. There were 1,860 respondents to the survey, which seems like a disappointing amount considering how many people either go to the track or bet remotely. In fact, only 70 oercent of the people who took the time to respond identified themselves as bettors or racing fans. I’m sure a portion of the other 30 percent were animal rights supporters, especially since the number one issue for the group that either didn’t bet or bet less than $5,000 a year was animal welfare. You can decide whether the survey was representative of the broader fan base, but in any case the results were worth talking about.

While passionate discussions about Lasix have dominated many racing message boards, the 1,860 respondents did little to resolve the schism over the race-day use of the medication. 41 percent said they supported the use of race-day Lasix, while 42 percent said they were opposed. That only adds up to 83 percent because 17 percent of the folks answering the survey had no opinion.

Are you kidding me? This is racing’s equivalent of the issue that divided the states in the mid 1800s’s. It is stunning to imagine almost a fifth of the people were apathetic about Lasix. I bet I could grab a hundred people randomly at the mall and ask them if the Ludovico Technique is a promising cure for youth violence and get less than 17 percent no-opinion.

I can’t repeat the names I’ve been called for suggesting that race-day Lasix isn’t the seminal issue of our time. In fact, 41 pro, 42 con and 17 what-the-hell-is-Lasix is disappointing whether you are pro, con or totally apathetic. Nobody gets to say “aha” with those numbers.

With the DRF survey the anti-Lasix crowd had a chance to drive home the point that Lasix, which if I am reading the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance (WHOA) literature correctly is a scourge along the lines of the Black Death between 1346 and 1353, by proving that once racing fans (and another 30 percent who apparently can’t resist anything survey monkey puts out) have a chance to make their opinions known, they will overwhelmingly send racing a message – no more race-day Lasix. Not only did the survey fail to arouse the ire of whomever it was that submitted responses, when asked where race-day Lasix fell in terms of importance to the health of racing, the survey mouse-clickers placed it ninth of ten issues, I’m guessing behind overpriced food and too many toilets with “out of order” signs on them.

The survey broke down the information even finer. Support for race-day Lasix was strongest among racing fans that bet no money or less than $5,000 a year. That group supported the ban 50 percent to 35%. The group that bet more than $25,000 a year favored race-day use 45 percent to 35 percent. This may just be me, but for obvious reasons I’m inclined to put a steep discount on the opinions of most of the group that doesn’t bet money, mostly because I wonder how many of them are really interested in the long term success of racing. The people primarily supporting racing are more fine than not with Lasix.

So, the survey was no help to either side of the Lasix issue. However, the DRF story pointed out that “bettors overwhelmingly believe that horsemen are getting away with using illicit drugs that affect horses performance on race-day despite little evidence that cheating is widespread in racing, such as a glut of positive drug tests for illicit drugs or the seizure of illegal substances at racetracks or training centers.”

 They followed that up with the statistic 78 percent of all respondents said that states have not been effective in catching cheaters.

This is a real conundrum for racing. How do you catch the cheaters who apparently aren’t cheating? I don’t mean the less than one-half of one percent of the trainers who were cited for overages of legal therapeutic medication. We’ve nailed them. I mean the horsemen using “illicit drugs” and “illegal substances” that racing commissions haven’t been able to find by doing blood and urine tests and searching barns. I watch enough TV to know nobody is more than three mouse clicks away from getting nailed once the alphabet agencies put their mind to finding them, so it’s only a matter of time before that conspiracy is busted wide open, unless of course it has been thoroughly overblown by those who can’t believe losing has anything to do with bad handicapping or betting, or who believe racing management needs a new (federal) paradigm. (I also know that our Navy has been seriously depleted due to all the deaths on NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles and NCIS New Orleans. Their new slogan, Join the Navy and You Might Wind Up as a Corpse on TV, isn’t working very well either.) It would be pretty hard to successfully argue for oversight by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) or federal legislation using existing compliance statistics, so it serves a purpose to promote the idea that illegal drug use is not only rampant, but the stumblebums in charge of finding it apparently couldn’t find water if they fell out of a boat.

The survey also pointed out that the use of illicit drugs was ranked second on the list of the top 10 issues facing racing. I’ll admit, I’m at a loss on how to deal with the illicit drug issue, mostly because the overwhelming perception of the existence of these drugs disallows any finding that the problem is mainly imaginary. If some credible entity did a thorough investigation and didn’t find anything, I’m not sure how much it would change that perception. For example, a Harris poll in 2013 found that 42% of people believe in ghosts, and I can tell you from personal experience that criticizing the thought process of a fervent ghost-believer is a mistake you only want to make once. I’ve said this on a number of occasions, but it is so often true that opinion trumps fact (did I say trump?).

The unfortunate fact is that with nothing more than what seems to be anecdotal evidence, respondents ranked catching illegal drugs as the second most important issue facing racing, and followed that with the need to have uniform medication regulations. Whether or not the proliferation of illegal and undetectable performance-enhancing drugs is the top problem racing faces, the fact that so many people believe it is qualifies it as something racing needs to address. Once and for all horseplayers, horsemen, owners, track management and the administrative governing bodies need to put the issue to rest one way or the other. If the proliferation of illegal drugs is real, then they need to make a public splash about how they will find and eradicate them. And if it is the boogeyman kids see outside their bedroom window, then the stakeholders need to come to firm agreement on that and move the hell on.

You don’t need me to tell you that racing is doomed, doomed I tell you, until this issue is put to bed. There is only one side on the issue of illegal and performance-enhancing drugs – they need to be gotten the hell out of racing and anyone who knowingly tries to gain an illegal advantage has to be dealt with without equivocation. And then let’s get to the really important issues like takeout rates, gambling taxes and reporting requirements, and field size.

I’ve written extensively on the problem with the racing structure. Tracks are required to pay a tithe to state and local governments and are disallowed from functioning as most other private businesses function. You have revenues, you have costs, and the difference between the two is profit (or loss) on which you should pay taxes. I get the states’ argument they have expenses related to the administrative governing bodies and testing, but that is an artifact of the state being a partner in the business, something that  would be anathema to most capitalists.

Look at the On-track percentages of handle that Santa Anita pays (based on 35% straight and 65% exotic wagering):

  • State license fees          6.24%
  • UC Davis (testing)        0.10%
  • City Fees                            0.33%
  • CTBA                                   0.47%
  • Track Revenues            6.23%
  • Purse Revenues            5.15%
  • Total Takeout              18.52%

How do you get the take down to 12 percent? Cut the state share? CTBA? Agree to lower revenues to cover track expenses? Cut purses? The only way that has been guaranteed to work to cut the take is to not run a race meet at all, pay a few percent for the racing signal, take the small amount you need to cover operating expenses, define your profit and distribute the rest in the form of rebates to whales.

And good luck on the gambling tax issue. If you find a dollar on the street, the IRS wants its cut. The only group lower on the list for tax relief than gamblers is legal marijuana retailers. Who is your champion? Which politician is going to run on a platform of cutting taxes for the horseplayer? Even the trickle down zanies never mention giving the horseplayer his break. In fact, we are below DEAD people for tax cuts.

As for field size, I’ve recently  (halveyonhorseracing.com/?p=2435) written about this. I know many horseplayers long for Hong Kong with its 14-horse fields every race, but those large fields primarily benefit the heavy bettor by spreading action and increasing the payout on smaller probability combinations. Believe me, unless you are betting $3-5,000 a week, you’ll do much better with 8-10 horse fields. Yes, five and six horse fields are bad for everyone, but 720 combinations for a trifecta (as opposed to 2,184) gives the less capitalized bettor a running chance.

The final issue the DRF reported on is the overwhelming support of a federal solution. I’m just going to say this. Think that one through. The USADA right now performs about 9,000 tests a year. How do you think they are going to get to 325,000 without using the same testing labs states are already using? And if you’ve read some of the recent press, USADA has been pilloried for their contract work for boxing. Once again, you have to believe the imaginary illegal drugs have the sport in a death grip to conclude there will be some major turn around under USADA. You have to believe in a conspiracy of epic proportions where horsemen, stewards and the racing commission are either suppressing drug use or refusing to prosecute it. You have to believe that the testing labs with multi-million dollar equipment are purposely not finding the as-of-yet unidentified illegal drugs, but somehow the USADA will have them find it. You have to be in a fog to believe people like Joe Gorajec didn’t pressure the labs to find anything and everything in a sample that was prosecutable.

I ask one thing. Think this through. Get all the gory details before you decide Barr-Tonko is the answer. Don’t leave this to some yet to be named bureaucrat to write the rules.

Oh and ask yourself one question. Is the Congress that can’t even pass a budget among other myriad failures the right entity to save racing?

At Penn National, There They Go Again

The headline was definitely eye-catching

Penn National Race Track official pleads guilty in race rigging scheme

Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? Like someone was race fixing for the purposes of a betting coup.

Unfortunately, it was hardly that insidious. This comes from the Fox 43 web site.

Craig Lytel, 60, of Hershey, was an employee of Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Track (Penn National) who served as a racing official at the track. Lytel is charged with wire fraud. The United States Attorney alleges that Lytel was the recipient of an interstate wire transfer of $1,000 from a bank in Kentucky to his bank allegedly in exchange for providing inside information on the makeup of horse races at Penn National so that the trainers would know the composition of the race and enter their horses in races in which they have a better opportunity to win. It is alleged that Lytel deprived his employer of his honest service by accepting cash, dinners, gift cards and golf outings in exchange for the insider information. Lytel is licensed as a racing official at Penn National and falls under the rules and regulations that govern licensees with the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. He was privy to information concerning the horses entered in a race while the race entries are being filled by the racing office. This information gives a horse owner/trainer an advantage as to which race to enter their eligible horse in that it would give the horse a better chance of success. Such information, coupled with the knowledge of what other horses are in a given race, could also provide an opportunity for collusion on the behalf of owner/trainers or even determine if a race will be filled enough to run.

So the first thing that strikes me is, if the money transfer hadn’t come from out of state there was no federal crime committed. This Lytle guy should get a nickel in the pen for sheer stupidity. Plus, wire transfer? What they hell ever happened to cash in an envelope passed surreptitiously in a folded newspaper? Last I heard, there are hard records for wire transfers, while cash is, let’s say, not so traceable. The second thing that strikes me is that the FBI must have been hard pressed to pad the crime statistics that month. J. Edgar Hoover, who was well known for going to the races and getting “tips” on which horse to bet, must have been posthumously proud. Of course, that was in the good old days of racing when drug testing and wire transfers were in the stone age.

In fact, the $1,000 payoff was a clear indication that this was not solid gold information. More like copper. C’mon. Really big insider data had to be worth more than a yard.

I loved the last sentence in the Fox story. “Such information…could also provide an opportunity for collusion… [to] determine if a race will be filled enough to run.” It could probably give Putin propaganda to criticize the integrity of America too. In fact, by using the word “could” reporters could conjure up all sorts of heinous connections (you saw what I did there, didn’t you?).

Trainer A: I’ve got inside information. The race doesn’t look like it’s going to fill.

Trainer B: This is bad news indeed. Only one thing to do. Get the racing secretary to ask some trainers to help out.

Trainer A:  Right. That was $1,000 well spent. 

I shouldn’t be so tough on the FBI or Penn National. Usually the track is getting criticized for uglier transgressions, like trainers winning at 45% after a claim and everyone standing around shrugging their shoulders. But, if I was the decision-maker at Penn National, I’d simply have fired the guy quietly and made sure he never got a job in racing again. I mean, we have to keep the jails less crowded so the feds can put serious criminals away like the nefarious Martha Stewart. If nothing else, the amount of butter she uses in some of those recipes is definitely a crime.

Frankly, I never realized (1) telling someone which horses were entered in a race was a crime and (2) that information was actually worth money. I’ve heard every trainer tell me the racing secretary has called him in an effort to fill a race, sometimes even promising they will write a race for the trainer in return. This kind of informal bartering has been going on everywhere for ages. Perhaps the crime was taking money, dinner and golf instead of buying bagels or donuts for the racing office. It’s always a crime not to share the wealth with the rest of the staff so to speak.

My favorite story came from a trainer who was going to be suspended at a hearing scheduled a few days away. The racing secretary calls the trainer and asks him to enter some horses so some races would fill. The trainer tells the racing secretary he’s taking a forced vacation and the horses will have to be scratched. The racing secretary tells him he knows, but more important to get the races to go. And that apparently wasn’t a crime.

Racing has myriad problems, not the least of which is the perception that cheating of all sorts is rampant. Many tracks and racing commissions have adopted a policy of making sure they trumpet punishing any scofflaw in an effort to show the public they are serious about cleaning up the game. I’m not sure how much they deal with some issues quietly, but in this case the publicity was probably more harmful than good, especially when the news organizations resort to speculation and hyperbole. There are far more pressing issues into which racing should place greater enforcement effort.

As for Craig Lytel, perhaps he should have thought about whether racing would miss him more than he would miss racing.

HBPA Meeting August 8

I had the unique privilege of being the first horseplayer ever invited to be on a panel at the national HBPA meeting held this year in Denver August 7-9.

The medication and drug panel was chaired by Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida HBPA, who spoke about the potential federal legislation. The HBPA’s general opposition to Federal drug legislation is not an opposition to drug testing, which HBPA fully supports. The issue mainly revolves around trying to use federal legislation to ban the use of Lasix on raceday.

There is a vocal group of horsemen, including the well known manager of Team Valor, Barry Irwin, who are convinced that the use of Lasix gives racing a black eye. As I have mentioned before, drug use or the perception of drug use is often cited as a prime reason why the sport is in continual decline, despite RCI statistics that show less than one half of one percent all post race tests return a positive, and that the vast majority of those positives are for approved therapeutics. Less than 50 positives out of over 324,000 tests are for Class 1 or 2 substances.

The unmistakeable conclusion is that horseracing does not have an out of control drug problem nor is the existing system breaking down. Given the statistics, how can the federal legislation be about anything other than banning raceday Lasix?

Stirling cited a survey that has been conducted in Florida in which 90% of the horsemen (owners and trainers) favor the use of Lasix. The point is that there is a chasm between the anti and pro Lasix crowds, and trying to force a solution through federal legislation is only going to reinforce the divisions. There is a right way to do this, and it involves the industry working toward consensus.

The Lasix issue must be resolved soon. First, it is a boogeyman that keeps racing from addressing the real issues of why fans are abandoning the game. It is not as simple as no Lasix on raceday, and I guarantee that if Lasix was banned tomorrow racing problems would at the least continue, and most likely intensify. There are alternatives to Lasix, some of which are very much worse. It’s not about the Lasix.

The other panel members were Dr. Thomas Tobin, from the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Clara Fenger, head of the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians, and Dr. Steven Barker, recently retired from Louisiana State University. All three are highly respected within the industry, and their knowledge and expertise on drug and medication issues is unquestionably superb. It was humbling to be mentioned in the same breath as these industry giants.

I’ll be writing in more detail about the presentations from the other three panelists in a future blog, but I wanted to relate two important points that Dr. Barker made.

  • Of the 26 standards for approved medication, 19 are NOT based on scientific study. This is, in my opinion, a horrifying bit of information.
  • The emergence of technology that can measure picograms (trillionths of a gram) and femtograms (quadrillionths of a gram) render the adoption of zero tolerance standards ridiculous.

I’ve talked about how a picogram can be viewed for perspective. Imagine a trainer receiving a positive at 49 picograms and relating that to time. 49 seconds is the amount of time that has elapsed since I began writing this paragraph. A trillion seconds is over 31,000 years, a time when man’s ancestors were scribbling on cave walls. If you related it to weight, a trillion pounds would be (about) the combined weight of every person on the face of the earth, and 49 pounds would be the equivalent of finding one four year old boy somewhere in that mass of humanity.

The point Dr. Barker was making was that trainers are receiving punishment for levels that cannot possibly have any impact on performance. Moreover, such miniscule levels are often more representative of environmental contamination rather than drug administration.

The scarier point is, how can racing tolerate standards that are what those in the standard setting business call “WAGs” (wild ass guesses).

My presentation focused on four topics.

  • knowledge of and perspective on drug issues on the part of horseplayers;
  • setting standards to ban therapeutics;
  • absence of thorough investigations;
  • punishment out of proportion to violations.

With regard to knowledge and perspective on drug issues, in my experience, most horseplayers have limited familiarity and knowledge of the 26 allowable medications, with the exception of Lasix and some of the NSAIDs (bute and banamine). This often translates into equating violations of therapeutic standards with violations of performance enhancing drugs. This generally leads to the reaction, another trainer trying to gain an advantage got caught.

This lack of understanding also leads to some apathy about the actual details of violations. Horseplayers don’t see the violation in relation to the measurement unit – picograms. It’s a violation regardless of the mount, and often the attitude is, you knew the rules, you broke them, pay the penalty.

I also pointed out that groups like WHOA (water, hay, oats alliance) have made significant inroads, and many players believe Lasix is performance enhancing beyond improvement of EIPH. The problem, of course, is that there have not been specific studies done to quantify any improvement associated with Lasix.

I also suggested that many players cannot always attribute substantial improvement associated with a trainer change with differences in the horsemanship of the respective trainers. It is not uncommon for horseplayers to suspect trainers that improve a horse significantly after a claim of something more magical.

Finally, I pointed out that many players believe there are substances that are undetectable by current technology and that there are trainers not unwilling to use them.

On the other topics I referenced articles I have already published. Setting standards to ban therapeutics was part of the Bill Brashears article. (halveyonhorseracing/?p=1351). Absence of thorough investigations referenced the articles on Kellyn Gorder (halveyonhorseracing/?p=1587) and Chris Grove (halveyonhorseracing/?p=1742). Finally, for punishments out of proportion to the violation, I discussed the case of Mike Norris in Indiana (halveyonhorseracing/?p=1842)

I finished with a series of recommendations:

  • Horsemen need to approach state legislatures to provide racing commissions with greater guidance. Right now the commissions have total discretion over the adoption of racing rules, and this has led to many of the problems I cited. They do not often do investigations, and if they do they are often poorly done. In the case of Chris Grove, shouldn’t the most important question to answer have been, where did the nikethamide come from? Shouldn’t the tracks think it important to know who might be a meth user having contact with the horses? Did state legislatures mean to give racing commissions the power to treat felonies like misdemeanors and vice versa?
  • Given the poor timing of lab results from some of the testing facilities, shouldn’t some violations that occur for the same substance but before the trainer is notified of the first positive be automatically combined into one violation? This might not apply to Class 1 or 2 substances, but certainly for Class 4 or 5 substances.
  • There should be de minimis levels for substances where environmental contamination is the most likely explanation for a positive. ARCI is already looking at this issue. You simply cannot have zero tolerance standards when such contaminations are not that uncommon.
  • There should be an absolute right to be represented by counsel and the HBPA rep in any meeting with regulators. I have heard a number of stories where trainers were required to attend a meeting regarding a violation but were not allowed to bring counsel.
  • Records should be expunged after five years for minor and administrative violations. When New York decided to suspend Dick Dutrow for 10 years, the press release made him sound like a serial abuser, except almost all of the 80 violations that were cited were for things like “failure to have foal papers on file,” “late to the paddock,” and “failure to have the proper colors.” These are really the equivalent of parking tickets and overstate the serial nature of a trainer’s transgressions.
  • There should be standards that include both threshold levels AND withdrawal times for certain Class 3. 4. and 5 approved therapeutic substances.

I will continue my work to make racing fairer AND cleaner through this blog. For now, I want to thank the HBPA for the opportunity to provide my insight into medication standards.

Mike Norris

On one of the horseracing forums, someone suggested I’d have more credibility if I interspersed my defense of trainers who have been caught up in a system that often places justice behind punishments, with stories of trainers who are unquestionably guilty.

I will freely admit I don’t care about the trainers who tried to gain an edge, got caught and got punished. The played with fire and got burned. I’m unashamedly looking at small folks who seemed to get shafted in one way or another by the system. I’m not about being balanced in this way – one story about a trainer who got screwed, followed by one trainer who is a cheating bastard. Oh, give me an interesting story that accompanies the drug positive for the cheating bastard and I’m sure I’d be happy to write it. But if you want “commission nails another one” stories, I’d advise you to follow Ray Paulick. He’s quite good at taking the one-sided commission press release and turning it into another story where the racing commission got a heinous cheat.

The small problem is all stories have two sides, and if you are only reporting one side the world takes on a different hue. If you never talk to the person who was convicted, they all look pretty guilty. That’s where I come in. I give you both sides. The complete story. And you can make up your own mind if justice was served. I’m amazed at how many instances there are of commissions that do incomplete or poor investigations, or just decide that some trainer needs to be gotten. I’m certainly not running short of material. And let me make this absolutely clear. I haven’t taken a dime from anyone on either side. I scrupulously maintain my independence.

The fascinating thing has been the number of horsemen who tell me I’m the only one telling their side of the story, and that is reason enough for me to keep telling horseplayers what really goes on when some – not all, but some – trainers get targeted by racing commissions. That’s my practice. I perform a service for horseplayers who want to know what goes on behind the scenes.

A few months ago I got a call from Sheri Norris. Her husband, Mike Norris, had been cited by the Indiana Racing Commission for five violations of the drug hydrocrtisone succinate, marketed as Solu-Cortef. The story isn’t about whether he gave his horses SoluCortef. He did. The story is about how they are facing loss of livelihood, impending bankruptcy, and almost complete ostracism by the sport.

This is part of what appeared in the article about the Norrises’ conviction in the June 22 Paulick Report:

Norris did not help his own case. In his report, [Administrative Law Judge] Pylitt wrote, “Throughout the hearing, Norris was sending text messages, was rude, disrespectful, and disrupted other witnesses’ testimony by making outbursts on numerous occasions.”

He also wrote, “Through the entire investigation, and during the hearing before ALJ Pylitt, Norris provided inconsistent and contradictory testimony in an effort to support his changing version of the events…Norris has not been honest about the circumstances surrounding the positive tests.”

Specifically, Pylitt noted that Norris “changed his story” about how the Solu-Cortef wound up in his horses’ systems, first saying “it just blows my mind that it’s in there,” then suggesting that a substance called Wind Aid spiked with Solu-Cortef was the likely source. Later, Norris suggested contamination through urine-soaked hay was how the drug was ingested.

Sounds pretty damning, doesn’t it? The only problem is that it may be more interpretive than factual. Let’s start with why the Solu-Cortef was in the horse’s system. Hydrocortisone succinate is therapeutically used to treat the hives, which Mike Norrises’ horses got from a bad batch of hay. I’ll go into detail about why the Indiana commission thought the use of that drug was heinous in my investigative article.

Notice in the second paragraph from Paulick’s story above, Administrative Law Judge Pylitt seems to refer to himself in the third person. There is a reason for that which I’ll also talk about.

Did Norris change his story? Well, to start with it depends on how you interpret “it just blows my mind that it’s in there.” Norris said it alright, but consider this. Your horse has a positive for some medication but you believe you dosed the horse with sufficient withdrawal time to clear the system. You then say, it just blows my mind that it’s in there, meaning the drug had plenty of time to clear the horse’s system, not I never gave the horse the drug. Pretty slick on Indiana’s part, eh?

Then you say you administered the drug in an oral solution with Wind Aid, which was the case. Your expert witness, Dr. Steven Barker, under questioning, says it was even possible that the horses ingested the drug (well after it was administered) by eating urine soaked hay contaminated by the horses that were legally dosed.

So did they really change the story or did Indiana take three statements and come to the conclusion that made the Norrises look the worst? I’m sure the state’s attorney is experienced enough to know that it is not uncommon for a defense expert to offer alternative theories of how a horse tested positive for a respective substance.

I’ll talk about Norris “disrupting other witnesses’ testimony by making outbursts.” You’ll get to read exactly what happened, and not just the Indiana press-release version.

Over the next few weeks I will be meticulously documenting how the Norrises’ found themselves in Joe Gorajec’s crosshairs and how Gorajec and the state’s attorney Holly Newell made sure they were severely punished. I will explore the question of what merited the severe punishement they were given. It just may have been something beyond the Solu-Cortef positives.

You’ll read about the connection between Joe Gorajec’s desire to get rid of veterinarian Ross Russell and the Norris case. You’ll read about Ross Russell’s assistant, Libby Reese, (who was fired by Russell) and what part she played in the efforts to punish the Norrises’.

There is a lot more to this story than has been made public so far. It’s time the public learned the full story.

The Rise and Fall (and rise) of Chris Grove

“I loved horseracing.” Chris Grove pauses a moment and gathers himself. “Past tense. I still love horses but I’m done with racing.”

Charles Town Race Track

Chris Grove’s life changed forever on July 28, 2012 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town. It was a typical Saturday at the track that had mostly morphed into a casino with live racing taking place. Ironically, he wasn’t even there when his career as a trainer was derailed.

Charles Town race track was built in 1933, a three-quarter mile track known in the racing parlance as a “bullring,” a track shorter around than the most common one-mile oval. It initially gained fame for running during the winter, a time when almost all the northeast and mid-Atlantic tracks were closed. By the mid-90’s the track had fallen on hard times and was near closing when Penn National Gaming stepped in as the new owner and managed to get video lottery games approved as a condition of keeping the track going, eventually parlaying that foot in the door to construction of a full-service casino with slots and table games.

While the purse structure for horse races at Charles Town is attractive to owners and trainers – casino gambling can have that effect – the track is still considered by most racing fans as one of the minor league players. But it is part of the mid-Atlantic circuit – Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Delaware – that offers a smorgasbord of races to trainers who ply their trade in that region.

Chris Grove was based in Maryland but was very familiar with West Virginia. He had a sizeable stable overall – maybe 50-80 horses at his peak – but there were never more than 7 to 14 in West Virginia at any given time. One of the horses in West Virginia on that July night was a marginally talented $5,000 claimer named Bubba de France. While Grove had no idea before Bubba ran in the fifth race, that horse became as significant to Grove as all his stakes winners.

 

The Early Years

While Chris Grove was raised in a racetrack family – his father Phil was a well known mid-Atlantic rider with almost 4,000 wins – his family did not push him into horseracing; in fact, quite the opposite.

My parents gave me riding lessons for my fifth birthday. After the first time the instructor took me out he told my parents I was a natural. That was not what my dad wanted to hear,” Chris said, laughing. “He knew how hard and how dangerous being a jockey was, and he didn’t want to see me have to make my living that way. That was the last riding lesson I had.”

Chris’ first love was soccer, starring at Frederick High School, going on to play one year at a D3 school, and then one year in junior college where he was an all-state JUCO selection. Still, the allure of the track had infected him, and after leaving college he took a job on a horse farm, learning to be an exercise rider.  Grove’s first riding instructor was right – he was a natural on a horse. Aside from gaining a reputation as a top exercise rider, he was a three time ARCA (Amateur Riding Club of America) Champion.

After his  stint at the farm, Grove moved on to Upper Marlboro, both riding and grooming for another seven years, apprenticing with well-known trainers like Richard “Dickie” Small at Pimlico and Meredith “Mert” Bailes (famous for having been the trainer who broke Secretariat) at Bowie. Eventually he decided to start his own career as a trainer.

My first horse was named Runny Babbit. I bought him in 1997 for $2,000. We ran him at Charles Town at four and a half furlongs. He ran fifth in that race and we brought him back at a mile and a sixteenth. I told Mark Johnson, the jockey, to put him in front and don’t look back. I can tell you there is no feeling like watching your horse cross the wire first.”

Grove struggled as a trainer for a while, but caught his big career break when noted Maryland breeder and owner William R. Harris gave him his string. That pairing was successful through the first decade of the 2000’s, with horses like Greenspring and Sweet Goodbye winning multiple stakes.

It was also during that time that Grove earned the nickname “Big Ticket.”

I had a couple of $100 plus winners. Someone called me Big Ticket after that and the nickname stuck.”

Grove describes himself as coming from humble beginnings. In his own mind he was one of the 16% guys, trainers with a lot of blue collar horses who won by working harder than the next guy and playing fair. He never had the name that a trainer like King Leatherbury had, but he had something just as important – the faith of his owners and the respect of his peers.

Racing took a backseat in 2004 when Chris’ four year-old son Noah, an active boy who loved soccer as much as his dad, was diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg. Doctors delivered the grave news to the Groves that Noah would have to have his leg amputated at the knee. It was a difficult time for the family but in the end the news was good. The surgery and the subsequent treatment arrested the cancer, and today Noah is on the national amputee soccer team and the national developmental team for sled hockey and living a full life of his own.

Chris went back to training with a new understanding of just how quickly things could change. What he didn’t know was that Noah’s cancer wouldn’t be the last time he would be hit with devastating news.

 

Absolute Insurers Rule

In the world of horseracing, there is a long-time rule known as the absolute insurers rule. It can take slightly different forms in different jurisdictions, but in general the rules are similar to the one in West Virginia.

The trainer is the absolute insurer of and responsible for the condition of the horses he or she enters in an official workout or race, regardless of the acts of third parties. If testing or analysis of urine, blood or other bodily substances or tissues prove positive showing the presence of any prohibited drug, medication or substance, the trainer of the horse may be fined, suspended, have his or her occupational permit revoked, be prohibited access to all grounds under the jurisdiction of the Racing Commission, or may be otherwise disciplined. In addition, the owner of the horse, the foreman in charge of the horse, the groom and any other person shown to have had the care, or attendance of the horse may be fined, suspended, have his or her occupational permit revoked, be prohibited access to all grounds under the jurisdiction of the Racing Commission, or may be otherwise disciplined.

It is a draconian rule designed to make sure the trainer takes all possible precautions to ensure his horses do not ever fail a post race test. It has been challenged numerous times, and consistently upheld from state courts to federal courts. It is one of the places in American jurisprudence where a violator is presumptively guilty, the only necessary proof being a positive blood or urine test.

The more interesting part of the rule is the section that makes the trainer responsible for the acts of third parties, including people of whom the trainer has no knowledge or over whom has no control. The rule makes the absurd assumption that all trainers could have 24/7 control over their part of the backside. The backside at most racetracks is not a high security area, even if it is limited to authorized personnel. Grooms, hotwalkers, trainers, veterinarians, farriers, feed delivery people – all have close to unfettered access to the stable area. At many tracks there are not security cameras. It is somewhere close to miraculous that there are not more instances of horses being contaminated to the surprise of their trainers. A fired employee, an unscrupulous vet, someone from the barn next door with a grudge – any of them could kill a trainer’s career, and even if the trainer had proof that it was outside tampering, he’s still just as guilty as if he did it himself.

Grove would find out first hand just how unforgiving the absolute insurers rule could be.

 

Charles Town, West Virginia

Chris Grove’s main base of operations was the Bowie Training Center in Maryland. Most of his career highlights occurred in Maryland, including having a starter in the Preakness, Norman Asbjornson. Norman finished 11th of 14 in that race, never a threat to the winner Shackleford, but for a guy who never expected to have a Triple Crown starter it still felt like a victory.

Grove kept horses stabled at two other locations – Penn National and Charles Town, maybe seven to fourteen horses at each track. It was often a grind for Grove to manage three simultaneous operations. The day started at 5 a.m. with phone calls to the out of town operations to go over schedules, races and any issues that had come up. Usually Grove would stay in Maryland watching his horses work until 8, then he might take the short drive to Charles Town to watch the late workers there. Back to Maryland to watch the any horses he had entered, and then back again to West Virginia for the evening card there. The next day’s schedule was emailed out at 10 p.m. and in a few short hours after that the next racing day began. Sunday was reserved for Penn National. It was a long week, even for a guy as dedicated as Grove.

Charles Town had been more troublesome for Grove. His first assistant trainer there was a woman named “Ashley” who functioned as both exercise rider and assistant trainer. Jurisdictions require a licensed trainer in the paddock before the races, and if Grove was unavailable she turned out to be a good choice for a while. Unfortunately, when Grove examined the monthly feed and straw bills he found them to be higher than he might have expected. After three months he confronted Ashley and fired her on the spot. While she never confessed that she had been using feed and straw bought by the Grove operation to supply seven other horses she had in training, after she left the bills went down markedly.

But that left a critical hole in the Charles Town operation, one that needed to be filled quickly or else he would lose his stalls. None of the other workers had a trainer’s license so Chris talked with Mike Elliot, backstretch manager for Charles Town and some others more familiar with Charles Town. Someone suggested he talk with Misael Ceciliano, a familiar figure on the Charles Town backside. Ceciliano had the right qualifications – he could exercise horses and had a trainer’s license – so Grove interviewed him and gave him the job in November of 2010. He was encouraged by the assurances he received from other track people and head steward Danny Wright who told Grove that Ceciliano “was a good guy.”

For the most part Ceciliano did his job without creating any serious problems for Grove. There was an incident three months before July 28 where Grove was not able to reach Ceciliano by phone. When Grove confronted him at the track Ceciliano claimed his phone had died and he was too broke to afford another one. Perhaps it should have been a red flag that Ceciliano was so in need of money that he couldn’t afford a critical piece of equipment, the phone that would keep him in close contact with his boss. Still, at the time Grove didn’t have any reason to blow the broken phone out of proportion – those things can happen and Ceciliano had been doing a good job. Later during testimony at the hearings, it never occurred to anyone to ask Ceciliano how desperate he was for money. It never occurred to anyone to ask Ceciliano if he had any bitterness toward Grove or a perception that Grove might be responsible for his unenviable financial position.

Grove only had seven horses at Charles Town at the time, and Ceciliano was paid $90 per horse per week, with a $50 bonus every time a horse won. That wasn’t a lot of money – $630 plus bonuses a week – and while Ceciliano knew working as an exercise rider and assistant trainer wasn’t the road to riches, living so close to the edge was bound to occasionally cause stress. Grove had started Ceciliano with ten horses, but when a few of them weren’t having success in West Virginia he moved them to one of his other operations, leaving Ceciliano with a thinner paycheck.

The other thing was that the small number of horses only merited Grove a part of a larger barn. His string shared the area with Joe Painter, Jeff Snyder, Michael Sterling, Jacob Dill and Freddie Johnson, as well as all the associated grooms and other stable personnel. The fact was that there were a lot of people who had access to that barn, and because Charles Town was a night track, there was a long stretch of time between the end of morning training and post time for the first race where the backside was relatively empty and quiet. As far as the record goes, it appears that none of the other potential witnesses who may have seen something were questioned by the investigator – a fact significant in light of West Virginia’s contention that their investigation was exhaustive.

The track on Thursday July 26 at Charles Town was sloppy, but Grove decided to show up and run his three entries. He checked Bubba de France in his stall that night before he headed home, noting Bubba looked as good as he had in a while. Grove drove home that night exhausted, and left the Charles Town operation in Ceciliano’s hands. While he normally might have returned to watch Bubba run, he had a family function that Saturday night. He called Ceciliano Saturday morning as usual and detected nothing off base. He took time away from his family party to call Ceciliano again 20 minutes before the race, and again was assured Bubba was ready to go.

Bubba de France did run in the fifth race, a $5,000 non-winners of two claiming race, on the night of July 28, 2012, finishing first. He was naturally taken to the testing barn where the usual urine and blood samples were drawn. On August 5, 2012 the West Virginia Board of Stewards got a certificate of analysis from Dalare Associates – the official equine testing laboratory for West Virginia – stating that the sample taken from Bubba de France needed further testing. On August 8 chief steward Danny Wright had a conversation with Joseph Strug from Dalare. Strug indicated the presence of the drug nikethamide.

Nikethamide is an unusual substance to find in a blood sample. In the last ten years, there have been only two positive tests for the drug – Chris Grove’s and one for Julio Cartagena in Delaware a year after the Grove violation. After the fact, it turned out that Cartagena’s violation may not have been simply coincidence.

Chemically nikethamide acts as a stimulant that mainly affects the respiratory cycle. In other words, it makes heart-lung function more efficient. It was originally used as a countermeasure for tranquilizer overdoses, but its use was eventually discontinued because of the development of better therapies and its potential to actually be dangerous. Under Racing Commissioner International classifications, nikethamide is a Class I substance, the worst of which a trainer can be found in violation. Manufacture of nikethamide has been discontinued almost worldwide, and currently there are only two sources of the drug – a lab in Argentina that manufactures the drug, and a lozenge manufacturer in Europe. However, given the chemical makeup of the drug, it is not that difficult to compound with the right basic inputs. Still, someone would have to be specifically connected to get a dose of nikethamide. It just isn’t carried by veterinarians or available at the pharmacy.

The amount of nikethamide in Bubba’s system (3.5 ug/mL) led the lab to conclude he had to have been injected less than 12 hours before the race, most likely 3-4 hours prior to post. Nikethamide metabolizes very quickly in the horse, making it necessary to use it closer to post time to get the maximum benefit. This bit of information should have brought the veterinarian who administered the Lasix shot into the investigation. If the nikethamide was administered intravenously, the veterinarian could have testified regarding whether he noticed any needle marks or blood leaking from a puncture. In another strange lapse in the investigation, the vet did not testify at the hearing, nor did there appear to be an investigator’s interview report questioning him.

On August 8 the stewards conducted a standard barn search and found nothing out of the ordinary. Grove was not at the track, but Ceciliano, in the words of the chief steward, “was very cooperative.” The investigator returned the next day to collect any supplements Grove might have been using. These were collected and tested, but nothing problematic showed up.

On August 10 official confirmation arrived from Dalare that a positive for nikethamide was found. Steward Wright called Chris Grove with the bad news and asked if he wanted to exercise his right to a split sample. Grove said he did and the sample was sent to the testing lab at Louisiana State University, which confirmed the presence of nikethamide on September 14. The stewards then set a hearing for January 4, 2013, but the date was moved to February 22 after Misael Ceciliano’s attorney, Matthew Harvey, asked for a continuance.

 

Misael Ceciliano

Misael Ceciliano had been a fixture in West Virginia since 2000, mostly exercising horses. He emigrated to America from Costa Rica in May 1990 with a friend who found work at Finger Lakes. His friend introduced Ceciliano around, eventually getting him a job on a farm. Ultimately, Ceciliano migrated over to the track and obtained his trainers license.

Ceciliano had been around animals all his life. His father owned a cattle ranch and Ceciliano went to college, getting a degree in farm management, assuming he’d one day manage the family ranch.

The issue of Ceciliano’s drug positives didn’t come out during Grove’s interview or when he was given positive recommendations from people like Danny Wright, but it turns out Ceciliano had been suspended once before at Finger Lakes. This is the rambling story Ceciliano told at the racing commission hearing.

“I have six, seven horses in Finger Lakes and that was pretty good – my horses running in the money, you know, seconds there. All them were my horses. And normally I get at the barn at like four o’clock in the morning. I walk the horses I was supposed to walk. I gallop horses for other people until nine o’clock and come back and finish my training schedule. And they were doing good.

 They put somebody in the barn that had a bad reputation, and my friends, they told me, they said, ‘Be careful with that person.’ And usually, I don’t judge anybody for what people tell me. You know, I just get to have a…get to know him, and I can have my own opinion about it.

 So anyways, I ended up buying a horse from him, and then, um…then he had a record before that he was…he was a gambler. He made the horses…he used to train the horses in the morning. The day the horses are in, the horses get tired, and then run them in the afternoon, but that wasn’t my business. You know, I just do my things and then go home. And that day that we got the bad test…I had a bad test on the horse…he had a horse in the third race and I have a horse in the last race. So I went home, changed, take a shower and come back because my race was around 4:30 or so. It was the last race in the afternoon and I win the race.

The horse…I bought the horse from him, from the same guy, from Chip, Chip’s horse. I was doing good. So I said, well, maybe I can…the horse got a class and drop him to a $4,000, I think it was. Maybe I can win races or maybe, you know, I can do a little bit better, and then, um…

 Anyways, he…I win the race. He won the third race and I won the last race, and the horse test…I got a bad test of one tranquilizer, one kind of tranquilizer. So I got suspended. And I was doing the horses up, you know, in the regular basics, working with the horses. It was around one o’clock, 12:30, one o’clock, and a lot of people came to the barn, but you know, I am just told they’re both to see my hands, and I see two people standing by this stall door in black and all that. They told me that I had a bad test, and I got astonished, surprised, because I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ So they told me about it. So they searched the whole barn. They turned that barn, my tack room and the feed room upside down, looking for whatever you know, but they never find nothing on me.

 And the problem was, it was a gambling pot on the betting that day on the third race and the last race. Well, that guy, he has…he had a bad test also. It’s the same product. And then when they did that investigation in the morning, Thursday, they see his family gambling, brothers, wife, son, his self, and they bet in Las Vegas too. So the people who were there complained about it because they cleaned the pool in that case. So they complained and they start an investigation. They find out it was a bad test. And when I went to the stewards with my hearing and everything else, they…they don’t have proof. I mean, they don’t ever see me gambling. They never see me in the money purse, in the videos. I didn’t cash no bet. I give them my check account, go to the bank and see if I have any deposit, big deposit, or anything like that. Nothing.

 The boy that they proven, he make like a quarter million dollars and, um…he gambled on both horses. Normally, my horses used to pay like $18, because I got all the pictures I made average, how much they were paying. So it was good for him to sell me the horse and bet on it, you know. So anyways he bet on the horse. The horse paid $23, and he didn’t bet the horse itself. He bet the super…I think, ended up paying like $5,000. So he don’t have to bid a lot of money to make money.

 And so I have to hire a lawyer because they want to suspend me, but I say, ‘I will not take no suspension because I didn’t do anything.’ So I lost…they gave me nine months suspension. I appealed and they ended up giving me two years…

 We appealed it to the racing commission, and we keep going on because I say, ‘I am not taking it.’ The lawyer recommended me…recommend to me that I take the suspension; and I say, ‘I can’t take it. I didn’t do anything. Why should I?’”

While Ceciliano’s testimony was confusing and rambling, the state’s attorney was trying to introduce the drug positive from Finger Lakes before the defense attorney did in a more negative way. Ceciliano learned the hard way that if you don’t take the initial penalty ordered by the stewards or the racing commission, the court may worsen sentence.

The drug Ceciliano used was Romifidine, a large animal sedative and analgesic administered by injection. The interesting thing about the case at Finger Lakes was that this was the first time Romifidine showed up in a horse at the track, and the speculation was that because it wasn’t a legal drug in the United States, it may have been bought overseas, although like with the nikethamide, this was never confirmed. Once again, nobody thought this might have been an eerie similarity to the appearance of another drug only obtainable overseas, nikethamide. Ceciliano was apparently associated not once, but twice with drugs possibly obtained from foreign sources, but nobody dug deeper.

The experience in New York sobered Ceciliano. In his mind fighting a suspension could only have a bad outcome, so he decided if it happened again he’d just take the days and save a slew of lawyer fees.

 

Stewards Hearing

The stewards hearing went forward on February 22. Greg Bailey, Grove’s attorney, moved that the hearing be held directly in front of a hearing examiner, citing the usual due process argument. Bailey pointed out that the stewards were assigned by the Racing Commission to act as investigators, prosecutors, and judges. They were privy to ex parte communications with the defendants, meaning they had interviewed them before the hearing, and further could use any facts that were presented outside the hearing in making a decision. In other words, the same requirements that apply to a criminal case – a Miranda warning before questioning and the requirement that any juror or judge familiar with the case be dismissed so that the people judging the case were unbiased and were only judging based on evidence presented in the hearing – had no pertinence in a stewards hearing. This is the often-made argument that the defendants were denied due process under the United States Constitution’s 5th and 14th amendments that read, no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

 Unfortunately for Grove (and most trainers) due process in horseracing has a different meaning than it does in the real world. In horseracing, due process means that the racing authorities followed the administrative rules laid out by the Racing Commission. The Constitutional due process argument, as trainers have found out, is a non-starter.

Danny Wright rejected Mr. Bailey’s motion and continued with the hearing.

 Chris Grove was not unfamiliar with hearings in front of the stewards, although he had never faced anything so serious. He had been found in violation of drug/medication rules four times before the nikethamide positive, although never at a track in West Virginia. In January 2009 William Harris sent a horse named Our Sue from the farm to the track, but he didn’t inform Grove that she had been treated with pyrimethamine, sold as Deraprim, a medication used to treat Equine Protozoal Myoenchephalitis, a nasty infection caused by a protozoan. While the disease is serious and can be fatal, horses are often completely normal while on the medication. In other words, Grove would have no way of knowing the horse had been treated unless Harris informed him. When the horse came back positive, Grove was fined $500 and given no days by the Maryland stewards, a fairly nominal amount because of the mitigating circumstances.

In December 2009, the horse T.M.’s Treasure was found positive for fluphenazine, an anti-psychotic medication used to treat horses with certain behavioral issues. T.M.’s Treasure had a tendency to flip in shed row. Grove’s Maryland veterinarian recommended the drug, often referred to as “the 30-day” treatment, and informed him Maryland required 14 days between the administration of the drug and the next race. Grove looked for a race in Maryland for the horse, found one but it didn’t fill. He found another one in West Virginia, where the withdrawal time was 7 days, but the same thing happened. He finally found one in Pennsylvania 32 days out from the administration of the drug. The horse won, was tested and came back with a positive. Unfortunately for Grove, Pennsylvania was zero-tolerance for fluphenazine, meaning any measurable amount was a violation. In fact, Grove was told by the stewards that he should keep any horse treated with that medication off the track for six months.

Under the absolute insurers rule, it was ultimately Grove’s responsibility to know that Pennsylvania had more restrictive rules than Maryland or West Virginia, but this instance exposes two weaknesses in the medication rules. First, they can vary greatly from state to state. Either West Virginia is too lenient, or Pennsylvania too tough, but in any case it would make sense to standardize the violation levels, especially when trainers often see the mid-Atlantic circuit as having interchangeable tracks. Second, fluphenazine at 32 days out is at trace levels and the drug is no longer having the therapeutic effect. An important question for racing is, should withdrawal time be the primary standard, the actual level in the horse’s system, or some combination of both? The fact is that a withdrawal time of 45 days (instead of 30) would be enough to ensure almost all the horses would test negative. It is important because horses will metabolize a drug like fluphenazine at varying rates, and in rare circumstances may have residual amounts up to 90 days from administration. This means trainers would either have to (1) keep a perfectly healthy horse off the track for three months to be safe, or (2) pay for a pre-race blood test to ensure the horse wouldn’t test positive post-race.

The down side for Chris Grove was a $1,500 fine, but no days, again because the circumstances were mitigating enough to cause the stewards to go lightly. But the more devastating outcome was a Class 2 substance violation, a mark that would be used by the stewards in West Virginia in dealing with the Bubba de France violation.

The third violation was in January of 2010 when a horse named Greenspring tested positive at Laurel for the medication, diclofenac sodium, sold as Surpass. It is a topical anti-inflammatory cream used commonly on two year olds that are shin-bucked. In the case of Greenspring, one of the grooms treated a different horse, contaminated himself and then transferred the drug to Greenspring, who happened to be in the next stall. Another unintended violation and another $500 fine with no days.

The fourth violation was in December 2010 in Pennsylvania where a horse named Congar Light tested positive for isoflupredone. The background story would have been hilarious had it not led to such an unfortunate violation. One of Grove’s stable girls had a cat, despite Grove’s rules that there be no cats in the stable area. The cat developed an ear infection and the stable girl was given isoflupredone, a glucocorticosteroid commonly used in such cases, by her vet to treat it. After administering the drug to the cat, she failed to wash her hands. She then put a bit in Congar Light’s mouth, and the horse tested positive post race. Despite bringing the explanation, along with the tube of isoflupredone, to the stewards, Grove was saddled with a $1,000 fine but again no suspension.

In Chris Grove’s mind he was a clean trainer. Sure there were four violations on his record, but anyone who looked into them could see he was only at fault given the unforgiving absolute trainer’s rule. Grove was confident the stewards in West Virginia would hear his case and understand that he had nothing to do with the nikethamide violation; further, Grove was confident that the stewards would actually see the truth about who actually spiked the horse and why. At worst he thought that like the other instances, any punishment would be mild based on the facts that would emerge. Unfortunately for Grove, West Virginia was not Pennsylvania or Maryland.

Grove was shocked by the nikethamide positive, but it did not initially occur to him that his assistant, Misael Ceciliano, could have been involved. But the more he learned about the positive, the more he started to wonder about whether Ceciliano had a part. It turns out that the amount of nikethamide that was found in Bubba de France indicated it had to have been injected within 12 hours of the race time, and more likely 3-4 hours ahead. Four hours is a critical time because that is when a horse receives its Lasix shot and would show evidence of an injection site.

Grove initially talked to Ceciliano at the barn the Saturday after he found out about the positive, and during that conversation Ceciliano teared up. Grove said, “I didn’t think too much of it at the time, other than the fact that, you know, the severity of it was felt by everybody.

On the following Monday morning Grove asked Ceciliano to meet him at a local McDonald’s in Charles Town to talk about getting the supplements tested. There was some initial hope that one or a combination of supplements led to a false positive. Grove’s brother-in-law worked at the FDA and Grove was hoping he could help out with getting the samples analyzed. Ceciliano hesitated because he was scheduled to leave town on vacation to visit his mother, but agreed to meet on his way out of town. Once Ceciliano and Grove started talking Ceciliano again began to weep openly, and this made Grove wonder if he wasn’t overcome with guilt. After all, Ceciliano had access and knew the schedule for injections.

This feeling was intensified when Ceciliano said that he was set up in New York, and now he’s being set up all over again. Grove knew that Ceciliano had started his career at Finger Lakes and moved to West Virginia in search of more success, but the revelation of a problem in New York caught Grove off guard, and made him even more suspicious about Ceciliano.

While Ceciliano’s behavior left Grove wondering, he got nothing from him that would help explain the nikethamide positive. He bid Ceciliano good-bye, told him to have a good vacation. At that point Grove went back to the barn to collect the remaining supplements, still assuming they could have been critical to the nikethamide positive. He also hoped to talk with some of the stable staff.

Bubba’s groom, Josefat Reyes, left the track after the Bubba de France race, most likely heading back to Mexico. It wasn’t uncommon for grooms who still had family in Mexico to move back and forth between there and the United States. While it may have seemed on the surface suspicious, no real effort was made to locate Reyes, and it only came up as an aside in the hearings. Reyes was never seriously considered as a suspect. Grove did run into one of the other grooms, Chris Villeda, and asked him if he had any idea how Bubba could have shown up with a positive. Villeda hesitated, but when he answered, Grove’s suspicions were heightened. Villeda accused Ceciliano of injecting two horses – Athena Grand and Chinquapin Cutie. Grove confirmed that both horses had run on April 24.

There was no question that Ceciliano was not authorized to give injections of any substance, and if Villeda’s observation was true, it seemed an important piece of circumstantial evidence.

Right after that, Grove not only made a decision not to allow Ceciliano near the barn again after his return from vacation, but also decided to disband the West Virginia operation totally. Grove continued questioning the other barn workers and uncovered some allegations that Ceciliano was not following the training schedule Grove laid out. In fact, based on what Villeda told him, Grove suspected Ceciliano was keeping a set of books that paralleled Grove’s schedule, and a separate set that documented their actual workouts. The second set of books was never found, and Grove was left with a feeling things in West Virginia were not quite what he thought.

West Virginia tested the supplements they found at Grove’s barn and found nothing that would explain the nikethamide positive. However, by that time Grove was past wondering about the supplements, and was focused on Ceciliano.

Chris Villeda was a typical backside worker, not highly educated and willing to work hard and at long hours for short pay. According to Villeda, when Grove first approached him he said he didn’t know anything because he didn’t want to get involved, but eventually he said he was overcome with guilt and told Grove he had seen Ceciliano give two horses an injection, but only to Athena Grand and Chinquapin, and never again after that. As Villeda tells it, his initial hesitation to tell Grove what he saw was based on a desired to avoid the hearing – there is a great fear on the part of most backside workers to get called in front of the stewards – and because he thought that if Ceciliano returned to the operation he would be immediately fired.

When Villeda testified at the stewards hearing, he clarified the issue of the separate set of books. According to Villeda, Ceciliano simply made the set of books correspond to what Grove set out as the training schedule. Villeda accused Ceciliano of not actually training horses, but simply walking them and then putting bandages on to make it appear like they had worked.

In the hearing the stewards seemed overly focused on the second set of books, spending far more time on that than the potential injections given to Athena Grand and Chinquapin. As it turned out, they had in fact gone into the hearing with a bias regarding Villeda’s testimony that came from their investigator, Arthur Wood. Wood took Villeda’s initial statement and questioned both Grove and his investigator, Trevor Hewick, about the story Villeda told about witnessing Ceciliano injecting horses. Wood had concluded that the story the three of them told was too pat, lacking in sufficient variety if you will. Wood concluded that the three of them had concocted the story as a way of throwing the blame at Ceciliano, and as a result should be given no credibility.

Villeda’s credibility took another blow when the stewards questioned him about why he didn’t report the violations when he saw Ceciliano administering needles to the two horses. Villeda didn’t help matters when he dismissed the concern expressed by Chief Steward Wright, suggesting it wasn’t his job to find violators, it was the stewards job. In Villeda’s world that was a perfectly reasonable stance – in essence he was saying, nobody on the backside rats because it would be too easy to cast suspicion on anybody for any reason. Trainers don’t turn in other trainers, even if they know something underhanded is going on. Grooms have to be especially careful because they are considered far more replaceable than most other workers. But from the stewards’ point of view, it was one more reason to suspect Villeda was just protecting his boss, Chris Grove.

Villeda actually approached Grove after the hearing, expressing what Grove thought was a sincere fear of retaliation for being a rat. He asked Grove to move him to the Maryland stable, and Grove agreed. Unfortunately, without actually knowing the story, this added to the stewards’ speculation about collusion – Villeda was in their minds being rewarded for his loyalty to Grove. In any case, Villeda was all but ignored in the decision.

After Grove talked with Villeda, he figured the next step was to figure out where the nikethamide came from. To help him with that he enlisted Trevor Hewick, an investigator. Hewick immediately focused on the Argentina connection and the potential connection Ceciliano might have had with Argentineans at the track. While everyone else seemed completely unaware of nikethamide, Hewick stated he was aware of the drug and was sure it was bought from Argentina.

Hewick’s testimony was circumstantially damning to Ceciliano. He stated that there were private barns adjacent to the track, barns controlled by trainers suspected of drug use, including drugs from Argentina. Hewick testified that

“Back in the mid-2000’s, when I came back into horseracing in late 2005, the red barn [identified as Steve Spears’ barn] and Ms. Angela’s barn had horse trainers and people acting as trainers but weren’t licensed trainers training their own horses. Drugs were being brought from Argentina and these drugs, there were three specific drugs being bought from Argentina and they were used by Julio Cartagena, Renee Schlessinger, Timmy Collins, Kevin Joy, and Ms. Cartagena’s family, and Misael was associated with all those individuals.”

 Eventually they required horses from the private barns to walk over to a receiving barn. There was speculation this was in response to suspicions the horses were being given some illegal substances. Interestingly, at the time, the West Virginia officials didn’t show any knowledge of the shenanigans at the private barn when they required them to walk over to a receiving barn. Chief Steward Wright clarified that an outbreak of an equine virus was the primary reason the horses from the private barns were shuttled to a receiving yard. So either the stewards were unaware, or they were keeping the allegations to themselves, but in any case they apparently did no in depth investigation.

Hewick went on to say that from an ex-employer and associate of Ceciliano he was told how to purchase the drugs, and specifically nikethamide. Hewick decided that this was a much larger issue than just the positive for Bubba de France and gave the racing commission this information. They in turn sent Art Wood, the investigator, to meet with Hewick. Hewick gave him the name Kevin Joy as a person who might know who drugged the horse and how the nikethamide was obtained. Wood went to Joy’s house, Joy wasn’t home, and incredibly no further effort was made to talk with him. Hewick also steered him to Renee Schlessinger, one of the people mentioned as having an Argentine connection, but Wood concluded Schlessinger didn’t have any useful information.

Despite what seemed to be the importance of Kevin Joy to the investigation, the stewards never pushed to have him interviewed and explain Ceciliano’s role if he had any. Joy was the one person who could not only implicate the Argentineans, but who had explained to Hewick how the nikethamide could be purchased. It was the most glaring of the instances where the stewards were lax in the investigation, despite their subsequent assertions that the investigation was exhaustive.

Hewick had concocted a plan to actually buy nikethamide from the Argentina source he was told about and gave this information to Wood. Hewick ordered what he believed to be a drug containing nikethamide, and once the drug arrived in the United States for some reason Wood had postal inspectors seize the package, despite Wood knowing the entire plan Hewick had devised. Hewick had previously arranged for the drug to be taken into custody by the Jefferson County sheriff, and they would be responsible for securing a chemical analysis of what was shipped from Argentina.

Hewick testified the postal inspectors had the package a week before it was turned over to him. The postal inspectors at first thought that Hewick was importing an illegal, controlled substance into the country, a serious offense. The postal inspectors opened the package, and once they decided no illegal drugs were being imported, they resealed the package and released it to Hewick. However, the chain of custody was at the least compromised at the post office, and while there was no suggestion of tampering, the postal inspectors did carefully examine the contents.

Hewick then gave the resealed package with the drugs to investigator Art Wood, who was responsible for getting them tested. Hewick testified that Wood had the drugs analyzed and despite the label’s promise of nikethamide, the samples came back negative for that drug.

Hewick naturally was puzzled by the failure of the samples to contain the promised nikethamide, and requested that whatever part of the shipment had not been analyzed be sent back to him for additional testing. By the February hearing, Hewick testified they weren’t given the drugs back.

 This was of concern in the Grove camp. Grove had paid for the drugs and was in the strange position of never having actually seen the bottles that were shipped or having the chance to have a confirmatory test done by a second testing lab.

Eventually they got around to questioning the lab director, Strug at Dalare, who testified that the product he was given a link to on the Argentine web site was called Corpoten, which indeed was promised to have nikethamide, but that the product he was given to test was MV Chinfield, which said it contained sodium succinate and uridine triphosphoric acid. It was tested and as expected, did not contain nikethamide. Interestingly, nobody ever explained what a drug with those compounds might actually do for a horse.

The ordering and testing of drugs from Argentina turned out to be a bust for Grove. Hewick ordered a drug containing nikethamide, but apparently got something different. Of course, Hewick had no idea what was in the package before it was handled by the postal inspectors, nor did he afterward since he turned the resealed package over to Art Wood without opening it. The stewards concluded he got the wrong drug, but that ended the investigation into whether you could order nikethamide from Argentina. It was another instance of the stewards’ exhaustive investigation actually stopping short of a conclusion that could have shed light on the source of the nikethamide.

It pointed out one of the underlying weaknesses of the absolute insurers rule. Once the horse tests positive, all efforts to find out what happened fall on the accused. The racing commission has no additional responsibility to investigate or to dig to the bottom of what may have happened. This was underscored when Hewick testified that he would have been able to trace purchases of substances from Argentina if someone used PayPal or Western Union for the purchase, but he didn’t because he turned everything over to the Racing Commission for follow-up investigation. Based on the hearing record, it was another place where it does not appear that West Virginia followed-up.

Chief Steward Wright responded to Hewick’s testimony, saying

“…we felt an obligation to take this as high as we could to find out what the sources would be to ascertain this particular illegal medication. So we did everything humanly possible. And as a result of that extensive investigation which I’ve already mentioned, a statement was made. We’ve already had that individual make that statement as part of the investigation. Unfortunately, it didn’t go much further than that as far as being able to get one person to make one statement to the facts that are here.”

 Everything humanly possible was certainly a matter of perception.

Misael Ceciliano’s attorney then asks Wright who that one person was. Wright responds, Chris Villeda. Wright continues that Villeda was the only one the Board believed worthy enough of testifying. The result of the exhaustive investigation was to talk with one person Chris Grove identified to them as having probative testimony, an unsuccessful visit to Kevin Joy’s house, and a conversation with Renee Schlessinger that revealed nothing.

Amazingly, everyone accepts Wright’s statement and moves on. At that point Hewick talks about his meeting with Kelli Talbott from the state Attorney General’s office and a U.S. Attorney named Paul Camilleti to discuss the Argentine cabal possibly dabbling in the use of performance enhancing drugs. Camilleti initially gets excited, but suggests any investigation would take two years. Hewick tells him Chris Grove doesn’t have two years – more like two months and essentially tells Camilleti two more years of animal abuse and defrauding the racing public is unacceptable. Camilleti reacts poorly to Hewick’s assertion, Hewick departs the meeting, and apparently Camilleti decided not to investigate. Ceciliano’s attorney asks if Ceciliano’s name came up in the conversation with Camilleti. Hewick answers it did, that there was talk of arresting him.

At that point Wright excuses Hewick and asks Ceciliano’s attorney if Ceciliano will testify. The attorney says that it was his belief that if Ceciliano refused to testify it would be held against him. Wright tries to calm the Ceciliano camp by emphasizing the only thing the Board is interested in is the nikethamide positive and the allegation Ceciliano injected two horses. Wright then tells Ceciliano’s attorney that it would be in Ceciliano’s interest to be questioned by his attorney and Wright further tells him that the federal investigation Hewick brought up has nothing to do with the case, although that begs the question, if it was irrelevant why did the Board allow Hewick to testify on it for the record?

Once again, the weakness in the system is that the due process rights, the evidentiary rules, even the hearing procedure all are very different than in a court of law. Despite the fact that two men are fighting against losing their livelihood, the Board advises the attorney very subtly that Ceciliano is better off if he testifies. Of course, they already have a written statement gathered by Art Wood, so they are not completely in the dark about what Ceciliano might say. In the American justice system, defendants are protected by their rights against self-incrimination and by the requirement that the prosecution prove the case against them beyond a reasonable doubt. That is not the case in horseracing.

Wright tells Ceciliano’s attorney that the investigation didn’t go anywhere and tips the Board’s hand with regard to Chris Villeda’s testimony. Wright says, “How can we even take [Villeda’s testimony] into consideration?” Wright continues to try to convince the attorney that Ceciliano should testify because essentially most of the previous testimony against Ceciliano either wasn’t credible or was irrelevant to the matter at hand.

This is another strange moment from the hearing. Wright essentially tells Ceciliano’s attorney that they had already decided to dismiss Villeda’s testimony well before consulting with the other stewards during deliberation, and that the testimony Hewick gave about meeting with the U.S. attorney was irrelevant.

Nobody objects and Ceciliano’s attorney requests a continuance and when Wright hesitates, asks for a recess to talk things over with his client. Wright agrees and breaks for 15 minutes.

When they return, Ceciliano’s attorney renews the request for a continuance and Wright says, “We gave you the opportunity to go out and speak with your client and come back to see if you had changed your mind on that request.” Ceciliano’s attorney presses for more time, and Wright finally says no. Ceciliano then takes the witness stand.

Ceciliano’s attorney goes right to the heart of the matter and has Ceciliano testify that he never injected a horse with anything, he is completely unfamiliar with nikethamide, and that Villeda could not have seen him inject any horses because he never injected a horse. Ceciliano testifies that there are all kinds of medications that are administered without syringes and Villeda probably mistook a dose syringe (one used for oral medication) for an injectable syringe. He said he followed Grove’s schedule as it was transmitted, except that if he got on a horse and he thought the horse didn’t feel right he might change from a gallop to a walk, and this was fine with Grove. Ceciliano criticized Villeda as a groom, suggesting he wasn’t skilled at putting bandages on the horse and the only reason Villeda was kept on was the lack of availability of grooms at the track.

Ceciliano previously had a two-hour interview with Art Wood, the Commission investigator, and while the report reads blandly, Ceciliano accused Wood of threats, intimidation, foul language, and trying to put words in his mouth. Wood got a call late during the interview with Ceciliano and decided to break it off and try to continue it later. Ceciliano was highly agitated after the Wood interview and went to Radio Shack to buy a recorder for the second interview when Wood called and abruptly cancelled. No explanation for not finishing the interview with the most likely suspect was offered.

Ceciliano was upset enough with Wood’s behavior that he testified he went to the police to make a statement about how he was treated. He filled out a complaint form and was told he would have to be interviewed, and when he decided to leave before any interview the complaint form was trashed.

Ceciliano’s testimony covered a wide range of issues. Cameras that had been installed weren’t working and that he had seen unauthorized people around the barn. He talked about his relationship with Grove (according to Ceciliano at the hearing, it was good, he thought Grove was an excellent trainer). Ceciliano saw himself trying out for the assistant trainer job, whereas Grove believed he had de facto given him the title. Most of the testimony wasn’t particularly relevant to the matter at hand – more the kind of building blocks lawyers lay for some known or unknown future purpose.

With that the lawyers made their closing statements, and the case went to the stewards for decision.

 

The Stewards Decision, Racing Commission and Appeals

In the stewards hearing it was clear they weren’t interested in digging far beyond the surface. A number of circumstantial situations – Ceciliano’s conviction in New York for a drug that may have come from offshore, the connection to the Argentines, the large number of grooms, hotwalkers, and other trainers who had close access to the stalls occupied by Chris Grove’s horses, and more – all those things could have been investigated to get to the bottom of where the nikethamide came from and who might have administered it. The questioning of Ceciliano, quickly the prime suspect, certainly could have been more effective. The chief inspector, Art Wood used little finesse in trying to corner Ceciliano, instead getting him to close down, and not even finishing the questioning. The attempted purchase of nikethamide from Argentina was hardly a matter of concern for the stewards, and considering that might have been the only place it could have been obtained, it would have made far more sense for the stewards to want to get their own investigator working on that.

The contention that the investigation did everything humanly possible was perhaps a stretch. In many cases Wood indicated he tried to talk with people, but they weren’t available. Virginia, one of the stable hotwalkers, had been fired by Ceciliano once Grove reduced the Charles Town stable size. Ceciliano claimed she was angry about losing her job, and may have been a reasonable suspect if the stewards’ investigator had found and questioned her. Josefat Reyes had skipped town after the race. Ashley, the former assistant trainer fired by Grove, was never mentioned at any point in the investigation. Kevin Joy, perhaps the keystone to explaining where the nikethamide may have come from, wasn’t home. In actuality Wood tried to talk with a number of people that he never actually got to interview but still the Commission agreed with the stewards’ assessment that Wood’s efforts were sufficient. The testimony of Villeda was all but dismissed, primarily based on two things: Art Wood’s opinion that Villeda, Grove and Grove’s investigator Hewick all told the same almost exact story, implying it was too “pat” and likely made up to throw blame at Ceciliano, and Villeda’s perceived credibility. The similarity of their stories may have made more sense if the stewards considered Grove and Grove’s investigator were simply repeating the story they heard from Villeda. Grove insists he didn’t coach Villeda, but as a star witness Villeda left a little to be desired. The other thing the stewards concluded was that Villeda’s contention that he had seen Ceciliano with needles was not relevant to the case of Bubba de France.

The stewards later stated they conducted a separate hearing on Villeda’s allegation against Ceciliano and concluded there was not sufficient evidence to find Ceciliano guilty, so the charge was dismissed. However, this seems unlikely on two counts. First, even if Ceciliano was injecting horses, Chris Grove was the trainer of record, and ironically would have been responsible for the actions of his employee under the absolute insurers rule. Grove was never informed of a hearing being conducted into the matter, and there seems to be no hearing record available. Even if Ceciliano was found to have injected two horses, the Grove decision had already been rendered, although Ceciliano’s guilt may have had a bearing on the appeal.

The stewards looked into the possibility of a betting coup and concluded there wasn’t one, but that particular evidence was never brought forward in the hearing. If anyone had spiked the horse, the question of why was never ascertained, other than for the stewards to conclude they couldn’t find a reason why either Grove or Ceciliano would do it. Ceciliano was so broke at one point he apparently couldn’t afford a cell phone. Needing an injection of funds is certainly a relevant reason to look more in depth at someone. There was no evidence that Cecilano’s bank accounts were examined, usually an early step in any criminal investigation. What do the cops say? Follow the money. More astonishingly, Ceciliano’s computer – the one where he received email from Chris Grove – was never examined. If there was any evidence in the communications Ceciliano received or sent, the stewards never even looked. If Ceciliano had ordered the nikethamide by internet the same way Trevor Hewick did, the stewards wouldn’t know because they ignored the computer.

None of Ceciliano’s potential motivation was investigated beyond the initial Wood interview. The stewards, the racing commission, and the court all agreed that the investigation had been sufficient, but it mostly appears that the effort was minimal – Art Wood did most of the legwork and missed a lot of potential witnesses – and in some instances amateurish. In the end, the absolute insurers rule and a positive for nikethamide was all that was really necessary to seal Grove’s fate.

The power that resides with the stewards was evident from the way they treated Ceciliano’s lawyer. Without using the exact words, it seemed that the message they were sending was, 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination were not an issue they were concerned with. If Ceciliano didn’t testify, there was at least an inference it would count against him.

But in the end the hearing was really not about figuring out who might have administered the nikethamide. The stewards ultimately believed Grove had nothing to do with the horse getting nikethamide, but that fact is irrelevant in the face of the absolute insurers rule. Unless Grove could have proven who actually administered the injection, he was never going to be found not guilty, and even then he may not have escaped punishment. For their part, the stewards were almost certainly right that the evidence introduced against Ceciliano was not sufficient to conclude he was the culprit, but considering their self-described exhaustive investigation really made no attempt to find out who might have been, the mystery was allowed to stand unsolved. The irony for Grove was that even if Ceciliano was the guilty party, the absolute insurers rule accounts for third party interference and Grove would have been guilty anyway because Ceciliano was his employee.

The incentive for the stewards to do a more robust investigation was minimal. With the evidence offered they concluded Grove had nothing to do with the nikethamide violation, seemingly putting them in the perverse position of finding a trainer innocent and having to punish him anyway because of the absolute insurers rule. Going into the hearing Grove and Ceciliano were presumed guilty, and nothing in the hearing did anything to change that fact. As expected, the stewards found both Grove and Ceciliano guilty and assigned them each a six-month suspension and a $5,000 fine. Later comments by adjudicators during the appeals would suggest they got off lightly, in essence telling them, we took the fact that Grove was certainly not involved and gave him a penalty less than the recommended penalty, and just decided we couldn’t give Ceciliano more.

The stewards listed the aggravating and mitigating factors. As expected, Chris Grove’s past record of four drug/medication convictions, including a Class 2 substance (fluphenazine), counted against him, with the stewards reminding Grove it wasn’t their job to re-adjudicate past violations.

Grove was livid and appealed to the Racing Commission. It was his belief that everyone knew he had nothing to do with the nikethamide positive and that should have been the determining factor on whether he was fined and suspended. Grove also threw a lot more energy into trying to show Ceciliano had to have been the culprit. Ultimately this became ironic when the circuit court pointed out that even if the absolute insurers rule had had an excuse for administration by an unknown third party (like New York), Ceciliano was his assistant. There was simply no way around the rule whether Ceciliano was guilty or not. The only hope Grove had was that if the Commission believed Ceciliano had administered the drug, they may have adjusted the judgment against him.

The Racing Commission was more thorough than the stewards but sustained the six-month suspension and $5,000 fine. The Commission reaffirmed

  • There was no evidence to establish how or exactly when Bubba de France was given nikethamide;
  • There was no evidence to conclude Grove administered the drug. Further, there was no reason to conclude Grove knew about the administration of the drug, including no evidence that Grove gave anyone instructions to administer the drug;
  • There was no evidence Ceciliano administered the drug or had any knowledge of its administration.
  • There were a large number of people who had access to the stall of Bubba de France, and from about 1:00 until the horse was scheduled to receive its Lasix shot, the horse was unattended and only general security was on duty.

None of that mattered. Grove was guilty as soon as the horse came back positive and nothing short of proving the testing was wrong or finding the actual culprit was going to get him off. Still Grove pressed on, appealing to the Kanawha County Circuit Court. That court found no reason to not support the report of the Racing Commission, noting

“There is clearly nothing wrong with the Commission’s findings on this issue that would cause this court to disturb them on appeal. Essentially what the Petitioner [Grove] wants is for this Court to re-weigh the evidence and find there is support for his allegation Ceciliano gave the drug to the horse, in direct contradiction to what the Racing Commission and its hearing examiner found. But this Court is not the fact-finder in this case. It is not this Court’s job to re-weigh the evidence and come to a different conclusion. The findings of fact made by the Commission and its hearing examiner are entitled to substantial deference upon appeal.”

 The Court also launched into a long discussion of the absolute insurers rule and how it has been consistently upheld in courts around the country.

Grove fired his last bullet and appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court. In April 2015, he got the bad news that they had rejected his appeal. The case was finished.

 

The Cartagena Connection

Trevor Hewick, Chris Grove’s investigator, did his best to steer the stewards in the direction of the Argentina connection, suggesting both they were known to be alchemists and Argentina was where the nikethamide had to come from. Hewick pointed out that Ceciliano was somehow connected to the group, but no specifics were offered.

A year after Bubba de France tested positive for nikethamide the second nikethamide violation in the last decade occurred when trainer Julio Cartagena had the horse Chinglish come back positive after a race in Delaware. John Wayne, Executive Director of the Delaware Racing Commission said that there were suspicions about Cartagena and made sure the stewards selected Chinglish for testing.

Wayne knew that Cartagena had essentially been run out of Florida through a consent decree for multiple drug/medication violations, and had a long history of running afoul of drug/medication standards. Cartagena also was keeping horses at a nearby harness horse farm, out of the watchful eyes of the stewards. Unfortunately, Delaware didn’t discover the source of the nikethamide either, taking at face value the positive and not looking deeper into where Cartagena obtained the drug.

Julio Cartagena was one of the names Hewick mentioned, but he didn’t pinpoint the most significant connection. When Charles Town refused to take entries from Cartagena and his daughter Keisy in 2008, Cartagena transferred the horses to the care of…Misael Ceciliano. In essence they were more than just casual acquaintances. Cartagena had employed Ceciliano to front for him at Charles Town. This was documented by getting the career training records of both Cartagenas and Ceciliano, and it was easy to match up horses that had been trained by Cartegena, flipped to Ceciliano when they raced at Charles Town, and then back to Cartegena in another state.

What is perhaps puzzling is why Danny Wright, who was a steward at the time the Cartagenas and Ceciliano were getting around the Charles Town’s refusal to take Cartagena’s entries, either failed to put two and two together or chose not to let Chris Grove know Ceciliano had been involved in a scheme with a serial drug violator in 2008, instead insisting Ceciliano was a good find for Grove. Inquiries to Wright for comment on the story have so far gone unanswered.

The question that has to be asked is, how much of a coincidence could it be that there were only two Nikethamide violations in at least the last ten years, and they occurred a year apart, and the people involved had been connected in a scheme to run horses in defiance of a Charles Town stewards order not to take entries from the Cartagenas?

 

Epilogue

Chris Grove served his suspension and paid the fine and started training again in September 2013. His first horse back was named Denver Duel and he finished first. That may have seemed like the beginning of a happy ending, but while Grove was back on the track, his heart was not in the game the way it had been. As expected, he lost a number of clients. Even some of his old supporters had an issue being associated with a trainer with a Class 1 violation. Grove had always been about a 15% trainer, a good percentage for a guy with a blue-collar stable and a reputation for running a clean operation. In his last year of training Grove won at 10% with limited stock. On November 1, 2014 Chris Grove ran his last horse as a trainer, a horse named Smouldering Haze who finished 7th in a $5,000 claiming race at Penn National. After that race he walked away from racing.

When you talk with Chris you can hear the pain he still carries. He desperately wants his good name back, not only for himself but for his father Phil, who still works as the chief steward in Maryland, as well. You can also hear the bitterness.

They knew I didn’t spike the horse. They knew that,” he says. “They relied on the absolute insurers rule to excuse them from giving me justice.”

English jurist William Blackstone famously wrote, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” It is a thought that horseracing has consciously rejected. Ask most racing fans or officials, and they will tell you the absolute insurers rule prevents drug/medication positives from creating chaos. The fact is that a lot of very guilty trainers, including Julio Cartagena, protest their innocence when they are cited. If tracks were required to prove a trainer consciously created a drug/medication positive, some substantial number of trainers who are in fact guilty would never be punished. It is racing’s necessary evil. Even the courts have not been sympathetic, noting that even though the rule is set up so that innocent people may be punished, the good of the absolute insurers rule outweighs the bad. Still, there must be a way to keep the clearly innocent from suffering the way Chris Grove did. What should racing do when the evidence proves innocence? Does punishment regardless represent justice?

The adversarial relationship between the stewards and the trainers also does not always serve the cause of justice. Had the stewards conducted a better investigation, perhaps the question of where the nikethamide came from, or who had incentive to administer it might have come out. The question for racing should not be only as simple as who was the trainer of a horse that tested positive, but how can trainers and authorities work in concert to identify the sources of illegal drugs.

It is of no concern in most cases that one of the good guys – and make no mistake, everyone including Danny Wright after the hearing thought Grove was a good guy – gets labeled as a Class 1 violator for life, affecting his ability to even make a good living. There has to be some “out” available to the stewards and the racing commission when the great weight of the evidence points toward innocence. There has to be a way to make sure the good guys are not swept up in the zeal to excise the bad guys.

In life, there are few absolutes. But in racing there is one that stands written in stone. It needs to be looked at. There needs to be a recognition that finding the truth and executing justice is a higher priority than simply executing.

Chris Grove is not looking for pity. He expected to be handed nothing in his life. What he got, he got by working twice as hard as the next guy. He landed on his feet after quitting the game. He is the Chief Creative Officer in a company called Recellerate. Grove hasn’t been defeated, and it would be no surprise to hear his name again helping horses to race.

We’re working on some incredible projects that will benefit horses. Once we’re ready to roll out, it will be a game changer, believe me.”

Like he said, he still loves horses and one way or the other he’s just as determined to succeed for them. Racing may have lost a good guy, but the horses – he’s still working for them.

Kellyn Gorder

Horseplayers can be a cynical group. A trainer gets tagged with a drug or medication violation and most often the reaction is a sarcastic, there-they-go-again. The propaganda machine that is the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance and the Association of Racing Commissioners International has done a good job of convincing the public that racing is overwhelmed with alchemists, determined to win using chemical means at all costs, or that unless horses run free of any medication the sport is tainted.

Let’s be bold and turn to the facts to better understand this “runaway drug use” in racing. A 2010 study commissioned by RCI found the following to be true:

  • There were 324,215 biological samples of blood and urine taken from race horses and tested by labs;
  • Less than one-half of one percent (0.493) came back with a drug or medication overage;
  • As hard as it may be to fathom, this was 20% fewer violations than in 2001;
  • Of the violations, 94% were for legal, therapeutic medications;
  • 47 of the 324, 215 samples tested (that’s 0.015 percent, or about once every 7,000 tests) came back positive for Class 1 or 2 substances, those drugs that are most serious when it comes to concerns about performance enhancement.
  • The study did not differentiate, but a certain percentage of the 47 positive tests were almost certainly due to either errors in administration of legal therapeutic medication, or environmental contamination. This isn’t an excuse. It’s the damn truth.
  • If you’re wondering how this compares to just a few years ago, in 2001 the number of violations for Class 1 and 2 substances were 60. This is despite the fact that new testing equipment can find the equivalent of not just a needle in a haystack, but a needle in all the hay grown in Kansas.
  • Violations of the target drug for WHOA, Lasix, stood at 36 out of 324,215 samples, a 33% reduction from violations in 2001.

If these numbers indicate a crisis in racing, I’d hate to see the reactions if the number of violations hit one percent.

Things have changed a bit since the 2010 study. ARCI is finding more drugs to control, including cobalt. They are urging the absolutely absurd adoption of zero-tolerance standards for known and commonly used therapeutic medications. They have even better mass spectrometers that can find amounts of substances so small they are incomprehensible to the average human sense of proportion.

If you want to look at the bright side of things, the number of violations for real, performance-enhancing substances hardly rises to the level of “the sky is falling.” It is a clear demonstration that trainers are not trying to win through cheating and that the testing programs in place are working.

The idea that some imagined rampant drug use by trainers is why people are staying away in droves is nothing more than finger pointing by unqualified racing commissions and those who have declared a fatwa on any drug use, including therapeutics. It is as much the adoption of unmeetable standards by RCI that guarantees positives at levels that have no relation to performance enhancement and their relentless crowing about nailing trainers who are sincerely trying to comply and are good and caring horsemen. It is their failure to find and harshly penalize the real cheats. It is some poorly conceived idea that the racetrack chemists are hard at work designing undectable boutique drugs and that trainers are clamoring for more and more of them.

We’re not idiots. Of course there are cheats, and I imagine there are drugs that are one step ahead of the testing protocols, but I want to know. Where are the labs making the drugs? Why is racing not spending money finding these Breaking Bad actors and shutting them down? How many veterinarians are willing to lose their livelihood just to make a few extra bucks injecting horses with secret potions? Are you telling me that lab equipment that can detect picogram (trillionth of a gram) level amounts of over 1800 compounds is getting regularly fooled by amateur chemists compounding drugs in their garage? Is that the story we’re supposed to believe?

How many Balcos were there in the United States, and how long did it take for the FBI to eventually felonize them once they put their minds to the task? It is not particularly easy to compound completely undetectable medications, and to suggest it is rampantly occurring is at best an indefensible distortion of reality. It is a few trainers and a few home chemists that are the bad guys, and just like baseball if we make a modest effort we’ll find them and shut them down.

But it is the governors of the sport who create the perception of rampant cheating far beyond the reality of actual cheating. Call it job security, or public relations if you want. If you consider the violations of only performance enhancing drugs and not legitimate, therapeutic medications, as RCI’s own numbers show, the number of starts per violation is an incredibly low number. It is a problem equivalent to the current problem ebola represents in the United States. Lots of fanfare and arm-waving, two cases total.

The anti-drug people cite spurious statistics like, the number of starters per race has decreased since Lasix and Bute became ubiquitous. Yes, and the number of foals born per year has dropped by two-thirds. Now which do you think might be more likely the explanation for lower numbers of starters per race?

Facts have taken a back seat to opinion in a world where science has never been so capable of explaining things. I was watching a piece on some of the anti-GMO folks who believe modified vegetables can put holes in our cells. The actual scientific community finds that idea completely incomprehensible. All but about three scientists in the world believe climate change is in some significant part due to human activity. Medical science tells us that while nothing is 100% guaranteed safe, vaccines come pretty close to that standard, and the likelihood that they cause autism is so miniscule it’s laughable to consider it. But instead of arguing the facts, we argue about philosophy or anecdote or undocumented opinion. We give serious TV time to someone who would walk onto the floor of the Senate with a snowball to “prove” the earth is not warming. Even if you don’t buy the global climate change science, you have to be smart enough to recognize a snowball in winter is proof of nothing more than it still snows in winter in the northeast, and that isn’t going to change unless the tilt of the earth’s axis changes.

I apologize for the long intro, but all this leads to the case of Kellyn Gorder. Gorder is considered an excellent horseman, and until the fisaco in Kentucky, a guy that has an almost unblemished record for medication violations. In 2013 he had a positive for Clenbuterol, a drug for which many of the top trainers in the sport have been dinged. That’s it in close to tens years of having a trainer’s license

On November 22, 2014, he ran a horse called Bourbon Warfare in a maiden race at Churchill Downs. The horse won and was routinely tested. Gorder was notified a month later that the test came back positive for methamphetamine, a Class A substance and a zero-tolerance drug. The initial level was 57 picograms, and the confirmatory test came back at 48 picograms.

I’ve talked about picograms before, but just to refresh everyone’s understanding, a 3cc dose of a substance would contain about 215,000,000 picograms. I asked Dr. Steven
Barker at LSU for the significance of 48 picograms of meth and he said, “48 picograms of meth isn’t enough to get a flea high.” Whatever the actual amount of meth needed to get a flea high, Dr. Barker’s statement is clearly indicative that the amount of the drug in Bourbon Warfare’s system would have zero impact on the horse’s running time. In fact, if the 48 picograms was indicative of anything, it was that the most likely source of the meth was an environmental contamination.

The table shown here  http://resources.psmile.org/resources/information-management/critical-values/Inf1.0-05%20Cut-off%20and%20Toxicity%20Levels%20for%20Drugs%20of%20Abuse%20Testing.pdf says that the therapeutic value (the level at which we would see a physiological effect) is 200 times greater than the level in Bourbon Warfare’s blood.

Bourbon Warfare was stabled at Keeneland in Barn 72. Gorder’s primary barn is 74, but because of space limitations, Barn 72 houses some of the overflow horses. Barn 72 is also used by a handful of smaller trainers, those with 4-6 horse stables. In other words, Gorder was not in as absolute control of the activities in Barn 72 as he was in Barn 74, but even putting that aside, Barn 74 had significance once the meth positive was reported.

Bourbon Warfare was shipped to Churchill for the race and housed in Barn 42. She was returned to Keenland after the race.

After the meth positive, the Kentucky stewards conducted an inspection of Barn 74 at Keeneland and turned up syringes and unlabeled, but legal, medications, but no sign of meth. Gorder explained the syringes were used to treat a horse with antibiotics using a nebulizer and he failed to dispose of them after the treatment was finished, a story that was backed up by his vet. Regardless, the syringes were still considered illegal and the unlabled medication was also a regulatory violation. Gorder has no dispute with those violations or the punishment assigned for them.

I asked Gorder if the inspectors took any samples that might confirm environmental contamination. To the best of his knowledge, he said they took no samples. I asked if they sampled the stall Bourbon Warfare occupied in Barn 72. He said to the best of his knowledge, they never inspected Barn 72. I asked if the people from the transport company were questioned or the transport vehicle tested. Again, no. I asked if Barn 42 at Churchill was inspected. Not that he was aware. I asked if Keeneland or Churchill had video surveillance in place. No to both.

Gorder tested 33 of his employees. All were clean for meth use.

Gorder can, at best, be described as stunned. Like many of the trainers I have spoken with, he feels betrayed by the sport to which he has devoted many of his waking hours for years. Horsemen rise with the sun and toil until after it sets, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. They are in this game out of love for the horses and love of the game, and Gorder is no exception. If there is an upside for Gorder, it is that he has received almost universal support from his owners and other horsemen, people who have recognized him as the competent, caring horseman he is.

Still, that cannot compensate for being labeled a cheater. It cannot make up for the loss of his reputation in the eyes of the public. Gorder understands the seriousness of the situation. “It’s a serious, serious situation,” he said. “Fourteen months. You’re talking about starting over. The clenbuterol was a wake-up call for me and I really tried to tighten the operation, then this happens. It’s very disheartening.”

The ruling of the stewards has farther reaching impacts. 33 stable personnel – grooms, hotwalkers and exercise riders among others –  will lose their jobs along with Gorder.

Like most of these cases, the judgment of the stewards is based on nothing beyond the fact that some level above zero for a banned substance was found. Did they research the potential for environmental contamination? (For example, studies have shown that upwards of 90% of the paper money in circulation is contaminated with cocaine, which is why the feds have de minimis levels for a cocaine positive. If this were horseracing, pretty close to 100% of racetrack bettors would show a positive level at picograms for coke.) Did they even try to understand the mechanism by which it occurred? Did they thoroughly investigate the other places where the horse was housed, or the other people who handled her? Did they look at the jockey? The person handling the sample in the testing barn? The person in the lab handling the sample? Did they consider the performance enhancing effect of 48 picograms? Did they consider when a horse might have had to have been actually dosed with methamphetamine to have a residual of 48 picograms? Did they ask themselves why someone would dose a horse and then wait until it had cleared out of its system before running it if they were looking for a chemical edge? Did they feel any responsibility for not having better security in place?  No to all of this, and yet at any point between Barn 72 and the lab the horse or the sample could have been contaminated. It’s not as if meth is a rare substance. They didn’t even bother to ask the question.

The overriding question state legislatures need to ask themselves is, when you gave the racing commission the power to oversee the sport, did you mean that they should promulgate rules that are as likely to punish the innocent as the guilty? Was it your intention to rid the sport of the good guys in some misguided zeal to find the bad guys? Have you really helped horseracing to prosper by sending the message to good, honest horsemen that at any time you could lose your livelihood? Are you really happy with how this sport is being managed?

Let’s be realistic. Racing commissions are being pushed by various groups to adopt standards where they have no idea what unintended consequences will occur. Snaring a few dolphins is a small price to pay to grab the tuna.

There is no piece of hard evidence that would convince any rational thinking person that Kellyn Gorder cheated to win a race. On the other hand, there are piles of real and circumstantial evidence leading to the conclusion that cross-contamination is the likeliest explanation for a 48 picogram positive.

The Kentucky Racing Commission still has the chance to do the right thing. Not just for Kellyn Gorder. For horseracing too.

Mollie and Tenbrooks

This is an original story I researched and wrote a while ago. I sent it to the Blood Horse for publication and they agreed to publish it. Unfortunately, they only offered me $100 for the piece. I turned it down. So instead of publishing it for $100 and letting thousands read it, I’m publishing it for free for maybe dozens to read. Given that, I’m asking that if you read it, pass it along so that it gets as wide a distribution as possible.

Mollie and Tenbrooks

By Rich Halvey

“Run O Molly run, run O Molly run

Tenbrooks gonna beat you to the bright shinin’ sun.

To the bright shinin’ sun, O Lord, to the bright shinin’ sun”

All things considered, 1878 was not history’s most exciting year. Thomas Alva Edison patented the phonograph, prompting the first known occurrence of a parent saying, “You call that music? In my day, we had real music!” Who can forget that 1878 was one of the numerous years when Greece declared war on Turkey. It was also the year of the first of three assassination attempts on Italian king Umberto I; the anarchists may not have been great shots, but they were persistent.

And, oh yeah, it was the year of the Mollie McCarthy/Ten Broeck match race.

In 1878 three sports captured the imagination of the American public. Horse racing dominated the sporting news of the time, exploding in popularity through the last half of the 1800’s until by 1890 there were 314 tracks in operation. Boxing was a distant second followed by the growing sport of baseball. Football was popular on college campuses, but the formation of professional teams with paid players was over two decades away, and nearly half a century from becoming the respectable National Football League. Basketball would not even be invented until 1891. Horse racing all but stood alone atop the 19th century sports world.

The 1870s were a time of change in American racing. Up until that decade, most racing consisted of horses going long distances two- to five-times in a day. The famous 1823 race between American Eclipse and Henry, so beautifully chronicled by John Eisenberg in his book The Great Match Race, was typical of the time, with the horses having to win two-out-of-three four-mile heats. By the middle of the century, horses such as Lexington, perhaps the greatest of the so-called four-milers, were heroes on the track and favorites in the breeding shed.

While the English had all but abandoned the multiple-heat, long-distance race by 1870 in favor of single-heat “sprint” races, change was more gradual in America. Still, the movement toward what we today think of as the prototypical racehorse—fast-breaking and hard-running—was inexorable and irresistible. By 1880, the era of the four-milers was over, and racing took the shape modern fans would recognize.

MERIWETHER LEWIS CLARK

The track we know today as Churchill Downs was the brainchild of Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., nicknamed Lutie, grandson of the former Missouri governor and famed explorer General William Clark and the great nephew of Louisville founder George Rogers Clark. When his father, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr., married Abigail Prather Churchill, the Clark’s gained a connection to one of Kentucky’s first families.

Armistead Churchill, Jr. brought his family to Louisville in 1787, in the process changing the family name from Churchhill to the current well known spelling. He purchased 300 acres of land, part of which included the grounds on which Churchill Downs now sits.

Lutie Clark was only six when his mother died and his bereaved father sent him to live with his aunt and her two sons, John and Henry Churchill, holders of most of the original Churchill property. It was during his time with the Churchills that Lutie developed a taste for custom made suits, good food, and of course horse racing.

By his mid-twenties, Lutie Clark’s love of excess showed both in his physical girth and his personality. He was described as a great mustachioed bear of a man, arrogant, quarrelsome and quick-tempered, traits that would eventually cost him his friends, family and the track he helped start.

In 1873 the 27 year-old Clark returned from a trip to Europe with grand ideas about how to build a racetrack and eliminate the traditional bookmaker in favor of French pari-mutuel (literally “betting between the patrons”) machines. The idea behind pari-mutuel betting was ingenious. Rather than the track or the bookmaker accepting the full risk of a wager, the track would simply act as the “broker,” essentially creating a betting pool of wagers and distributing payoffs to the winners for a fixed fee per wager. In this way the patrons would decide the “odds” of each entrant and the track was completely removed from any financial interest in the outcome. Whether the favorite or the longest shot won the race, the track collected exactly the same amount of money. In theory, this gave them a powerful incentive to maintain the integrity of racing.

Unfortunately, despite Clark’s best efforts, the French machines never caught on. It would be decades before the mechanical version of the automated tote machine fully replaced the on-track auction pools and bookmakers. As was indicative of the time, living, breathing beings (like men and horses) were almost always trusted more than cold, heartless machines, even if those living beings were bookmakers—remember the famous tale of John Henry from the 1800s in which a legendary steel driver outperformed a steam-powered hammer?

With the backing and land donation of the Churchills, Lutie got the track built, and on May 17, 1875, the Louisville Jockey Club and Driving Park Association opened its doors to the public. During the spring and fall the facility was to be devoted to racing, while the rest of the year it was available for carriage riding, hence the Driving Park Association part of the name.

The Churchills happily allowed Lutie Clark to manage the racetrack and in the early years the track did reasonably well, although never turning a profit. Lutie flung himself into his racetrack endeavors to the point of obsession, but the irascible and overly opinionated Clark managed to alienate almost everyone he came in contact with, from the horsemen to the press to each member of his family, one by one. In one well-known incident, Clark refused the prominent breeder, T.G. Moore permission to race at the track, claiming Moore was behind on the payment of entry fees. Moore demanded an apology, Clark refused, and when Moore would not leave the premises, Clark drew a gun on him and ordered him off. Moore left but only to get a gun and shoot Clark through his office door, hitting Clark in the chest but not wounding him mortally. As the years went on there were more and more stories of Lutie Clark’s embarrassments, eventually using up all the patience left in John and Henry Churchill.

The story of how the track came to be known as Churchill Downs also lay in the contempt generated for Lutie. Many locals called the track “Churchill’s downs” as a way of reminding Lutie who was really in control of the track. It became known informally as Churchill Downs in 1883, when reporters picked up on the name. Within a few years, everyone referred to the track as Churchill Downs, but it wasn’t until 1937 that the facility was formally incorporated with that name.

Lutie Clark’s original plan was to hold three major races each year modeled after the Epsom Derby, the Oaks and the St. Ledger Stakes. The three races would be called the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, still run on the Friday before the Derby, and the eponymously named Clark Stakes, still run during the fall meet at Churchill. While the Kentucky Derby was one of four races carded for that first race day in May (although not the first Saturday), two other races probably provided more of a draw for the 12,000 in attendance: the Louisville Cup and the Gentleman’s Cup Race. Clark’s honored guests watched the races from the clubhouse, sipping mint juleps (a drink often reported as being invented by Lutie Clark) and listening to Strauss waltzes.

In 1875, top-flight 3-year-old racing was considered something of a novelty, and it would be years before the Kentucky Derby would attain status as America’s premier horse race. Still, when the fine racehorse Aristides beat fourteen other 3-year-olds to win the mile-and-a-half Derby in record time, the crowd was appropriately enthusiastic.

Despite a popular desire to assume that the impact of the Derby on American racing was large from its first running, it was not the early Derbys that certified Churchill Downs as one of the elite tracks in America. That would come three years later on July 4, 1878, when Ten Broeck, a horse that had finished fifth behind Aristides in the inaugural Derby, met Mollie McCarthy (sometimes spelled as McCarty) in one of the very last of the four-mile marathons.

TEN BROECK

Ten Broeck was a regally bred bay stallion by the British import sire Phaeton (who was by Baron de Rothschild’s well-known stallion King Tom) out of the mare Fanny Holton. A look at Fanny Holton’s pedigree reveals not only the prepotent sire Lexington, but also the eventually memorialized Henry, the loser of the “Great Match Race.” Fanny Holton is generally recognized as one of Lexington’s most influential daughters.

Ten Broeck was a useful horse at age three, having defeated Aristides in the Phoenix Stakes before faltering in the Derby. That year, he won five of nine races. By the time Ten Broeck turned four, he had become an eye-catching racehorse off the track and a superstar on the track. In 1876, Ten Broeck won seven of the eight races he entered and established a new record for the four-mile distance. Next year, at the age of five, he won nine of the ten events he entered, with his only defeat coming at the hands of Hall of Fame horse Parole (owned by tobacco king Pierre Lorillard) in the Baltimore Special at Pimlico. This race also featured one of Lexington’s last sons—Tom Ochiltree, the 1875 Preakness winner—and was somewhat artificially billed as a battle of East versus West, even though all three horses were Eastern-bred. In an action that would be unbelievable today, Congress actually adjourned to allow the Senators and Congressmen to attend the event.

After Ten Broeck’s 5-year-old season, his owner, Frank Harper, considered retiring him to stud duty. After all, he had no equal in the best two-of-three four-mile heats. Fortunately for racing, and especially Churchill Downs, Harper chose to give Ten Broeck two more races in 1878. One would be the famous match race against Mollie McCarthy.

 MOLLIE McCARTHY

The true history and pedigree of Mollie McCarthy is difficult to track due to the great number of fillies and mares of the same name around that time. Most accounts have her foaled in 1873, making her a year younger than Ten Broeck. While some sources suggest Mollie was bred in Tennessee, she was almost certainly born in California, the certain daughter of the top California broodmare Hennie Farrow and the likely daughter of the stallion Monday (a son of Colton that was a lesser son of Lexington). Mollie McCarthy’s breeder, Adolph Maillard, had brought Hennie Farrow, Monday, and a sire named Young Eclipse, originally purchased by Richard Ten Broeck, to California. In 1873, all of these horses were firmly entrenched in Marin County California.

Mollie quickly established herself as a top-flight racehorse. She won her only start as a 2-year-old and six consecutive races throughout her 3-year-old season. She continued defeating all comers during her 4-year-old season, winning five more races. When she defeated a horse named Jake at the start of her 5-year-old campaign, despite conceding fourteen pounds, it became clear that there were no horses left in California to beat. Mollie’s owner, Theodore Winters, sold her to Lucky Baldwin, who decided it was time for Mollie to head East to take on the horse considered the best in training—Ten Broeck.

LUCKY BALDWIN

Elias Jackson Baldwin left his mark all over California. He was swept to California in 1853, like thousands of others in search of gold. He survived losing his way and Indian attacks and finally arrived in San Francisco with little more than the rags on his back. Once he arrived he realized his fortune lay in selling food, supplies and accommodations, not panning Sutter’s Creek. Seven years later he entered the realm of the truly wealthy by playing the volatile silver market in Nevada.

Although Baldwin always seemed to live a charmed existence, by most accounts he earned the moniker “Lucky” a few years after cashing in on the Comstock lode. He left San Francisco to hunt elephants in India, instructing his broker to sell his stocks if they fell below a certain level. The stocks fell, but his broker did not have access to the certificates in his safe and they were never sold. Soon after, the stocks rebounded and Baldwin reaped a multi-million dollar windfall. Baldwin’s good fortune made him one of the richest men in California, and in 1875 he moved to Southern California, purchasing Rancho Santa Anita in the San Gabriel Valley for the extraordinary price of $200,000, and three years later the undefeated Mollie McCarthy.

For a while Baldwin’s luck continued and his wealth grew. Rancho Santa Anita became a showpiece featuring high quality thoroughbreds, eventually including three Kentucky Derby winners. Over time he subdivided the property, creating the communities of Arcadia (where Santa Anita Race Track is located), Sierra Madre, and Monrovia.

THE HYPE

Despite its early success, Churchill Downs had not yet achieved the status of some of the more famous tracks in New York and Maryland, and Lutie Clark was looking for an opportunity to add Churchill to the short list of elite racing places.

Frank Harper apparently could not bear the thought of retiring Ten Broeck to stud so soon and had already raced him earlier in the year. Lutie Clark knew that Ten Broeck was still the biggest draw in racing and approached Harper about one more race with an undefeated mare from California. Since Ten Broeck had no real competition left in the east, Harper jumped at the chance. Lucky Baldwin had already committed to move Mollie McCarthy eastward, and Lutie Clark quickly convinced Baldwin that by meeting Ten Broeck he would be part of the “race of the century.” Each side agreed to put up $5,000, an amount that would be worth about $125,000 today. On April 3, 1878, The New York Times published a small piece on the upcoming race:

“Col. M. Lewis Clark, Jr., President of the Louisville Jockey Club, has perfected arrangements by which Ten Broeck and Mollie McCarthy are to run four-mile heats at Louisville, July 4 next, for the sum of $10,000. Two or three other races will be given at the same time. The owner of Mollie McCarthy thinks she can beat any horse in the country. The mare will be brought from California to Louisville in Budd Doble’s car, which has been chartered for the round trip, and will probably arrive here about the first of May to prepare for the contest. Ten Broeck was never in better condition than at present.”

On that same train were a thousand Californians with their life savings in their pockets, determined to match every dollar the Kentuckians wished to put up on their champion.

Despite a tendency then, just as now, to overhype major sporting events, the Ten Broeck/Mollie McCarthy race had every right to be considered one of the two or three “races of the century.” It was the marquee event of the biggest sport in the country, and had all of the elements of drama a major event demands: the veteran Eastern horse, a champion in every respect, versus an undefeated mare with a larger-than-life owner from upstart California. Long before the Seabiscuit/War Admiral race was hyped as racing royalty against the common horse, Ten Broeck and Mollie McCarthy represented that scenario. And while it may not have been clear to everyone at the time, this match race turned out to be the last of the great four-mile events. It was the end of an era.

THE RACE

The event was as eagerly anticipated as any contest of the time could have been. Lutie Clark and the Churchills managed to arrange the event that would turn the track into the home of the greatest racehorse of the day, or at least that day.

On July 4, the weather was typically Southern, sunny, hot and humid. However, rain the day before had turned the track heavy and sticky. The writer L.S. Hardin described the track this way.

It rained torrents for hours the night before the race. When I reached the track the next morning, about 9 o’clock, the course looked as though it had been prepared for aquatic sports. As the track sloped to the rail, it was at that point, of course, deeper in water than farther out, where it was higher. The sun was so hot that horses standing idle in the field were wet with perspiration. This heat dried the track rapidly, but still left it about impossible for a horse to run, on an average, closer than six feet from the rail.”

People started arriving at the track early in the morning, and the heavy stream of patrons did not abate until well after the first race of the day. The New York Times described the streets as “well-nigh impassable.” Still, that many people for a sporting event in 1878 was phenomenal and clearly pointed to the importance of the race. It was among the largest crowds ever to attend a single sporting event up to that date.

Train travel in the 1800s was generally arduous, especially along the transcontinental line that had been completed only a short nine years earlier. Despite Mollie’s fine accommodations, the trip was sure to take something out of her.

When it was time for the first heat, Mollie, the challenger, made the first appearance, still covered in her white sheet. L.S. Hardin described her as “in perfect flesh for a long run,” although other accounts more precisely suggested she was carrying some excess flesh. Her connections dismissed that as a concern, indicating she ran better with some weight to spare. Hardin also mentioned Mollie was moving “awkwardly” with her hind legs, hinting at some lack of racing condition, a natural suspicion after such a lengthy train trip. With the help of the Californians in attendance, she was given a “fair round of applause.”

Ten Broeck emerged on the opposite side of the track from Mollie and was given thunderous recognition. Ten Broeck stripped his covering first and immediately provided an animated display of readiness. A much later account of the race suggested that Ten Broeck was sweaty and glassy-eyed, evidence that he had been drugged. However, by most accounts he was described as fit and well-conditioned. Hardin proclaimed him in “perfect condition for a long race.”

Ten Broeck’s regular rider was an ex-slave named William Walker. In the 1800s, most of the best jockeys were African-American, and Walker was among the best of them all. He rode Baden Baden to victory in the 1877 Derby and was five times the leading rider at Churchill Downs. He was, by all accounts, a gentleman in every respect and a perfect match for Ten Broeck.

Although the race was scheduled as a best two-out-of-three, most newspaper reports only describe one heat. Newspaper accounts of the time were a combination of the facts along with the embellishments of the turf writers who could turn a walkover into a race of riveting excitement. The accounts of the heat reflected this style in their descriptions, but not in the outcome. Some accounts had Ten Broeck leading the entire heat over the overmatched Molly; others noted Molly ran easily for the first two miles, keeping at least a head in front of the tightly restrained Ten Broeck. L.S. Hardin said that for the first two and a half miles the race was “as rapid and hotly contested as man ever witnessed,” and the fractional times bear him out, with the first mile run a tick under 1:50 and the second mile run a tick over 1:55. This was of no concern to Frank Harper who believed his horse had limitless bottom. He had instructed jockey Walker to not only beat the upstart filly, but to do so decisively.

On a track that was deep and sticky and on a day that was like nothing Mollie had ever seen in Northern California, the first two miles were killing. But two miles was as much as Molly had left in her. By the time they entered the third mile, jockey Walker began to let Ten Broeck roll, opening somewhere between five and ten lengths by the time the third mile was completed. Whether or not Molly was defeated psychologically by the powerful run of Ten Broeck can never be known, but she was clearly defeated physically. The question was not whether Ten Broeck would win, but by how much.

Lutie Clark sent a letter to the editor of the Herald, describing the race this way.

“The day was intensely hot and close and the track very heavy. The mare set a pace to kill the big horse, both running about thirty or forty feet from the pole. After going two and a half miles the mare began to weaken, and when passing the stand the third time she was very much distressed.”

As the horses began the fourth and final mile, one of the attendees, the famed detective Yankee Bligh, the man who relentlessly pursued the James gang, was purported to shout, “One thousand Mollie does not pass under the wire again.” One patriotic Californian took him up on the bet, but at the quarter-pole, the magnificent Mollie threw up her tail, gave up the race, and with that, the money of her backers. Ten Broeck galloped leisurely to the wire in the very slow time of 8:19 3/4. Mollie McCarthy, the great hope of her sex and western racing, was taken to the stable area, exhausted and in physical distress. Only the fine work of her veterinarians kept the day from proving an even greater disaster for Lucky Baldwin and his horse.

Accounts of Ten Broeck’s condition after the race varied. While he seemed to be blowing hard as would be expected, there were comments on the lack of sweat on Ten Broeck, lending small credibility to the rumor he had been drugged or even poisoned. However that was countered by reports that stated that an hour after the race Ten Broeck looked fine in his stall, like he could have run another heat.

Even after the race was over, some of Mollie’s supporters refused to acknowledge the superiority of Ten Broeck. Whether it was true or not, later writings about Mollie McCarthy would opine that she detested the muddy going and the unfamiliar, extreme combination of heat and humidity, although a killing pace on a deep track on a hellish day would have challenged any horse.

THE AFTERMATH

The Kentucky crowd was ecstatic at the success of the local hero. Ten Broeck was retired after the race to stud duty, where he achieved moderate, but not outstanding, success. A little more than a hundred years later, Ten Broeck was inducted into the racing Hall of Fame. Mollie McCarthy lost her next start in the Minneapolis Cup, but in 1879, her last year of racing, she won the prestigious Garden City Cup in Chicago and a purse race in San Francisco. She retired and became a broodmare. Like Ten Broeck, her foals enjoyed only moderate success on the track, although her female progeny did very well when they were retired to breed. The era of the four-milers ended with one of the greatest racing spectacles of the nineteenth century, and resulted in the emergence of Churchill Downs as one of the cathedrals of American racing.

While Lutie Clark was strongly opposed to track officials (and newspapermen) gambling on the races, he had no problem gambling on the stock market. In 1893 when the economy crashed and the New York Stock Exchange closed for ten days, Clark lost almost his entire fortune. His wife had left him to move to Paris with their son John Henry Churchill Clark. The Churchill brothers had become fed up with his antics, and by 1891 relieved him of almost all his duties at the track. For a while he worked as a presiding judge at racetracks around the country, but in April 1899, all but broke, fearful of growing senile and depressed at his isolation from his family he committed suicide in Memphis, Tennessee.

During the 1890’s the fortunes of Lucky Baldwin evaporated. He was an incurable philanderer, fighting off numerous lawsuits from an unending string of mistresses and lovers, and even surviving two shootings. Having lost most of his fortune, Baldwin headed to Alaska to try to cash in on yet another gold rush, but returned to Santa Anita empty handed. He maintained some involvement with horse racing but died in March 1909, still working on amassing another fortune. However, even in death his luck held for his heirs when a worthless piece of property he owned produced the Montebello Oil Fields, one of the biggest finds in the West.

Billy Walker, Ten Broeck’s jockey, had a very successful career after he stopped riding. He worked as a consultant and trainer and was considered the country’s foremost expert on lineage and breeding. He spent his final years as a workout clocker at his beloved Churchill Downs, dying in 1933 at the age of 72.

Churchill Downs succeeded in ways not even Lutie Clark could have imagined. In the early 1890’s the track was still struggling financially and William F. Schulte took over as president. Schulte oversaw the construction of a new grandstand with a set of twin spires on the roof. Those twin spires gave the track, and the Kentucky Derby, the most iconic architectural symbol in racing.

Still the track failed to turn a profit and in 1902 a group headed by Louisville mayor Charles Grainger, Charlie Price and Matt J. Winn agreed to overtake the operation. It was under the leadership of this group that the track began to prosper and the Kentucky Derby began to emerge as the preeminent three year-old race in America. In 1937 the track finally incorporated under the name Churchill Downs and today remains one of the most successful and recognizable operations in the country.

As was common during that period, the match race between Mollie McCarthy and Ten Broeck was memorialized in song. While the actual songwriter is the subject of some dispute, there is no dispute that it was made a bluegrass standard by the legendary Bill Monroe. In 1947, Monroe used “Molly and Tenbrooks” to make the first known recording of a bluegrass song. Even today it is a standard at bluegrass festivals across the country, and recordings are easily found on the Internet.

The song sums up the story of the match race of the century.

Out in California, where Molly done as she pleased

Come back to old Kentucky, got beat with all ease

Beat with all ease, O Lord, beat with all ease

Beat with all ease by the last of the great four-milers.