‘If we can’t trust our vet, who can we trust?’
Thoroughbred trainer Anthony Agilar, who had never been cited for any kind of medication violation since he began training in 1997, was none too happy to discover that two of his horses tested positive for the powerful Class 1 drug dermorphin in May of this year.
Agilar wasn't expecting a three-year suspension, either, after the Louisiana State Racing Commission conducted two days of hearings involving eight different Thoroughbred and Quarter horse trainers whose horses tested positive for the same drug. Dermorphin, said to be about 40 times more powerful than morphine, is commonly frog juice because, in its natural form, it is derived from secretions of a South American tree frog.
“I didn't think it was going to be that bad,” Agilar said about his suspension. “I told the truth.”
Agilar and two other Thoroughbred trainers, Lamont Keith Charles and Kyi Lormand, had a similar story.
All three said Lake Charles, La., veterinarian Kyle Hebert or associate vet Stephanie Fronning treated their horses on the day they raced. Hebert called it a “generic Equipoise,” Agilar told the racing commissioners, a reference to an injectable anabolic steroid.
Agilar noted, however, that despite the fact his horses were treated with the substance on race day (which is prohibited, since they are only permitted to receive approved bleeder medication the day they race), invoices for the treatment were always dated the previous day. “He covered himself up good,” Agilar said. “I think he knew what the hell he was doing.”
Agilar said Hebert charged $103 for each shot of the “herb” and had been “giving that same shot to all my horses” for a year and a half. When he called to tell his veterinarian about the positive test, Agilar testified, Fronning told him: “We ain't going to the track today. We are going to meet Dr. Hebert and clean out the trucks.”
One of Agilar's owners, Steve Isaac, told the commission, “Dr. Hebert was not honest with us.”
Yet while Agilar, Charles, and Lormand, along with Quarter horse trainers Gonzalo Gonzales, Michael Heath Taylor, Alvin Smith Jr., John Darrel Soileau, and Alonzo Loya have been suspended for a combined 42 years, no veterinarians have even been charged by the racing commission.
“I should have been a vet,” Agilar said when the commission announced his suspension. “(Hebert) made a bunch of money and he is still riding around the racetrack treating horses.”
State police, however, are investigating the veterinarians involved in these cases, said Charles Gardiner, executive director of the Louisiana State Racing Commission.
Lormand said Hebert was surprised his horse had a bad test. “After the test came back positive, I confronted him. He swore up and down it could not be traceable and it was an herb. He said there was no way it could be found in testing.”
Lormand said Hebert's office never sent him an invoice on the horse. “If I woulda known this stuff was anything like that, I would never have let him use it. I would never do that to a horse,” he said. “I can't say Dr. Hebert gave my horse dermorphin, but I know I didn't do it.”
Charles, whose Cold Hearted Babe tested positive at Louisiana Downs in May after being treated by an associate at Hebert's practice at Evangeline Downs earlier in the day, said he was given a syringe on a different occasion and told by the vet to give it to the horse before it raced. Charles said he had no experience injecting horses, so he didn't administer the drug. He kept the syringe, then handed it over to state police when after learning of the dermorphin positive.
Neither Hebert nor Fronning testified. When the Paulick Report contacted Hebert by telephone, he said he was too busy to talk about the matter and would call back. He has not done so, and did not answer his phone on subsequent calls. Fronning could not be reached for comment.
Other veterinarians or their associates who were said to have treated horses that tested positive for dermoprhin were Ed Baronne II of Sunset, La., and Larry Findley of Vinton, La.
“If we can't trust our vet, who can we trust?” asked Lormand.
UPDATE: Dr. Larry Findley, who operates the Delta Equine Center, said one of his practice's associate veterinarians, Dr. Louis Perez, administered a Lasix shot and nothing else to Courvilles Buff, a horse listed on the track program as being trained by Alonzo Loya that subsequently tested positive for dermorphin on June 1 at Delta Downs. The horse was said to have been shipped to Loya from Oklahoma to race that day. “We have never had dermorphin in our practice,” Findley told the Paulick Report. “I've heard about this drug for about four or five years and whenever I've been asked about it by trainers, I told them ‘Don't use it.'”