Louisiana hearings: How horses got frog juice a mystery

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Three Quarter horse trainers whose runners tested positive for the powerful Class 1 drug dermorphin at Delta Downs earlier this year told the Louisiana State Racing Commission on Thursday they had never heard of the drug before being charged and had no idea how it wound up in post-race blood and urine samples of their horses.

The commission conducted the first of two scheduled days of hearings to adjudicate appeals lodged by seven trainers suspended by track stewards for six months – the maximum allowed under Louisiana law. Their cases were also referred to the racing commission, which could impose harsher penalties.

The state’s case against Alvin Smith Jr., John Darrel Soileau and Alonzo Loya was presented by assistant attorney general Rhea P. Loney. A fourth trainer, Steve Garrison, was granted a continuance after his attorney, Donald G. Kelly, said Garrison had a “very serious” health problem.

On Friday, appeals filed by Michael Heath Taylor, Anthony C. Agilar, Lamont Keith Charles and Gonzalo Gonzales are scheduled to be heard.

Kelly and law partner Taylor Townsend represented Smith, Soileau, and Loya. On Friday it is expected they will represent Heath Taylor.

In its natural state, dermorphin is derived from secretions of a South American tree frog, thus its slang name frog juice. It is widely believed the drug that started showing up in test samples this spring from Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nebraska and possibly Texas is a synthetic version of dermorphin. The drug is said to be a powerful painkiller at least 40 times more powerful than morphine and gives a heightened sense of invincibility and strength.

In Thursday’s cases, trainers Smith and Soileau (who had two horses test positive for dermorphin) said  their vet work, including race-day Lasix administration, is done by Dr. Ed Baronne II, whose Baronne Veterinary Clinic is based in Sunset, La. Loya, who  testified through a translator because he said he did not speak enough English to be confident, said veterinarian Larry Findley or an associate from his Delta Equine Center in Vinton, La., gave the race-day Lasix to his horse that tested positive.

Smith, under questioning from Loney, said he didn’t recall some of his past medication violations, including a 2010 positive for flunixin or one of the two times in the 1990s he was caught with syringes in his possession on racetrack property. In 1999, Smith was suspended seven months for two Class 1 drug violations in Louisiana when two of his horses tested positive for a cardiovascular stimulant. Sixteen other trainers were also cited.

Smith admitted he doesn’t keep any records of what medications his horses receive, although after the dermorphin positives he checked the vet bill for the horse in question and found nothing unusual.  Commission vice chairman Bob Wright admonished Smith for not seeming very upset about the positive drug test or for making much effort to find out how the drug could have wound up in one of his horses.

Smith declined to have a split sample tested, saying the owner of the horse wanted to run him in a stakes race for which he was supplemented at a cost of $12,000, and going through the referee or split sample process would make the horse ineligible to run. “We didn’t want the horse in jail,” he said.

In his sworn testimony, Soileau said veterinarian Baronne told him he’d never heard of dermorphin. After the charge against him, Soileau said, he asked his wife to research dermorphin online, and that there were reverberations about the drug in the stable area. “You hear whispers,” Soileau said. “You can’t hide it.”

Soileau, who has only a few minor medication violations on his record, unequivocally denied giving the powerful drug to his horses. “I would never, ever hurt a horse,” he said.

Soileau said he doesn’t believe the drug was given to his horses by strangers or his barn help. In response to a question about whether he tightened security in his barn, he told commissioners he has since instructed there always be someone with a horse when Lasix shots are administered. How does he know, Soileau was asked, if it was just Lasix given to one of his horses. “They’ll start pissin’” he said.

Both horses in Soileau’s care that tested positive are owned by his father, John L. Soileau. The trainer said he never takes a close look at veterinary bills unless his father “starts fussin’”



Loya was drilled by commissioners about his relationship with James D. Hunt, the owner of Courvilles Buff, the Loya-trained horses that tested positive for dermorphin. Loya didn’t seem to know anything about or had never met Hunt, who he said was from North Carolina. Loya didn’t seem to provide a clear answer about whether or not he was facing some type of charges in Oklahoma, either, but he did confirm that he was suspended for 180 days in Iowa in 2010 after he was discovered in possession of a syringe in his shirt pocket, additional syringes in a duffle bag, and sodium iodide in his truck.

Dr. Steven Barker, head of the Louisiana State University testing laboratory that called the positive tests, provided testimony on the lab’s quality control process and types of testing that detected the dermorphin. Other witnesses provided testimony on how blood and urine samples are collected at Delta Downs and stored in secure locations until transported to LSU.

Also testifying were National Thoroughbred Racing Association CEO Alex Waldrop and Jockeys’ Guild national manager Terry Meyocks, who spoke about the serious nature of Class 1 drug violations.

No one seems to know how the dermorphin made its way onto the racetrack or into the bloodstream of the horses. No veterinarians testified. Perhaps we’ll learn more about this on Friday.

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  • comedyflyer

    The drug is said to be a powerful painkiller at least 40 times more powerful than morphine and gives a heightened sense of invincibility and strength….unquote,,,,Cocaine for horses….gives them invincibility & strength….Yikes.  I wonder if they test these horses at slaughter for this drug? No one knows how the horses got these drugs……this is a joke …right?

  • comedyflyer

    The drug is said to be a powerful painkiller at least 40 times more powerful than morphine and gives a heightened sense of invincibility and strength….unquote,,,,Cocaine for horses….gives them invincibility & strength….Yikes.  I wonder if they test these horses at slaughter for this drug? No one knows how the horses got these drugs……this is a joke …right?

  • SteveG

    Aw shucks, playin’ dumb comes as natural to these fellers as playin’ dead does to a ‘possum is what it sounds like, golldarnit…

  • SteveG

    Aw shucks, playin’ dumb comes as natural to these fellers as playin’ dead does to a ‘possum is what it sounds like, golldarnit…

  • Me

    Ray

    How many cons in prison are innocent? All of em.

  • Me

    Ray

    How many cons in prison are innocent? All of em.

  • No Penalties in Horse Racing

    I’d be more open to allowing someone back in the game sooner if they would come clean and admit they cheated and put horses and jockeys life at risk.  Instead, these people should be blackballed from the industry for making a mockery of what is already a terrible situation.

    • Circusticket

      We’re not talking about children.  If they confess, they should be suspended.  For the rest, it’s a slow process but well worth it.  Our judicial system is based on “innocent until proven guilty”.

      • Hossracergp

        Not really. The absolute insurer rule says they as trainers are responsible no matter how the horses got juiced. Although, neither one of these two seems smart enough to muck stalls let alone pass a trainers test. Time for them to hit the door and never come back.

      • nu-fan

        Circusticket:  Yes, but suspended for life.  Let them look for work elsewhere.  They have already made a choice to put horses at risk.  No room for second chances here.  As far as the judicial system, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that these trainers should be allowed back on the track until they are exonerated–if found innocent.  They should be removed from all horse care until then, much like police officers are put on paid administrative leave while an investigation is completed for a shooting.  Otherwise, these trainers may continue contributing to the endangerment of these horses.  Who would pay this?  Perhaps, the owner who hired the trainer.

    • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

      AMEN…

  • No Penalties in Horse Racing

    I’d be more open to allowing someone back in the game sooner if they would come clean and admit they cheated and put horses and jockeys life at risk.  Instead, these people should be blackballed from the industry for making a mockery of what is already a terrible situation.

  • No Penalties in Horse Racing

    Ray, is Barney Fife asking the questions at this hearing?

  • No Penalties in Horse Racing

    Ray, is Barney Fife asking the questions at this hearing?

  • tfly

    No vets testified?  Why are not they made to, under oath, so if they are involved and lie about it, they can be convicted of perjury?

  • tfly

    No vets testified?  Why are not they made to, under oath, so if they are involved and lie about it, they can be convicted of perjury?

  • Five2_Three

    OK, so here we have a guy(Smith) who doesn’t recall how many times he has had a positive test and or been suspended. and he doesn’t keep track of what medication’s his horses are given. WHY DOES HE HAVE A TRAINERS LICENSE ? GET RID OF THIS GUY NOW

    • L Hartley2

      totally agree with you. there should be no room in racing for trainers who drug horses. no second chances, you drug, your banned. and no training while the appeal process drags on for years. and why are vets allowed to have these medications in their vans? is there any valid reason that would have banned drugs in their vans? start suspending vets and watch things turn around a little faster.

      >>Dr. Ed Baronne II, whose Baronne Veterinary Clinic is based in Sunset, La. Loya, who  testified through a translator because he said he did not speak enough English to be confident,<<

      how did he pass his boards?!

      • Shobogirl2

        Is there some kind of rule that says a trainer has to speak good English to pass the trainer’s test. No there is not. I know Alonzo, and while, not judging him guilty or innocent, know that his English is broken. 

        • L Hartley2

          i am referring to the comment that the vet needed to speak through a translator because he was not confident in english. i wondered how did he pass his veterinary board exams.

          • Arenee

            The paragraph is poorly punctuated.  The one needing the translator is Loya.

            “In Thursday’s cases, trainers Smith and Soileau (who had two horses test
            positive for dermorphin) said  their vet work, including race-day Lasix
            administration, is done by Dr. Ed Baronne II, whose Baronne Veterinary
            Clinic is based in Sunset, La.

            Loya, who  testified through a translator
            because he said he did not speak enough English to be confident, said
            veterinarian Larry Findley or an associate from his Delta Equine Center
            in Vinton, La., gave the race-day Lasix to his horse that tested
            positive.”

          • L Hartley2

            gotcha!

      • Five2_Three

        People crack me up with the Sammy Sosa “no speaky English/I need a translator. He doesn’t speak English well, but he can count money and cc’s What a dog show.

      • Sevencentsstable

        Reading for comprehension, again… The period after “Sunset, La” effectively ends that sentence. It is LOYA who doesn’t speak enough English. You would hope trainers in the US could comprehend the language, but nowadays many, many trainers “no comprende”.

  • Five2_Three

    OK, so here we have a guy(Smith) who doesn’t recall how many times he has had a positive test and or been suspended. and he doesn’t keep track of what medication’s his horses are given. WHY DOES HE HAVE A TRAINERS LICENSE ? GET RID OF THIS GUY NOW

  • Circusticket

    We’re not talking about children.  If they confess, they should be suspended.  For the rest, it’s a slow process but well worth it.  Our judicial system is based on “innocent until proven guilty”.

  • Mr. Moo

    seriously ???
    soepena the purchase records from the vets and clinics around the area. And their private doctors. Amazing how this stuff drops out of the sky.

    • Roisin

      And this drug is being made  by someone and sold by someone. I seriously doubt any sales records exist. Further, I bet the workers on the backstretch have some knowledge re the whole story!!…..comes from S. America, right ? We need some good detective work here and some evidence gathering and then all the talk !!

      • Mr. Moo

        Well actually it’s not as if someone is making it there garage now days it manufacturd but was originally derived from the aformentioned frogs. Legaly proscribed by doctors for sutch things as end stage cancers. Being that it is a schedule III it can only (in a perfect world) be obtained by a licensed “doctor” and those records are by definition kept. Few know but there is nothing in the law that says a vet cannot write a script for any farmicuticle. it is given is that they cannot prescribe for humans. And it is known that vets have “great latatude” when it comes to medications and treatments for anamals. so it’s nothing more than a “doctor” writing a script for a medication, and have it filled at the local drug store. But the drugest would have record of the script. So having said all that somewhere there are records for the original purchase if it was obtained legaly. Ilegaly it’s a fedral DEA,FDA issue

        • Sevencentsstable

          Highly doubtful it was obtained through a scrip OR given by a vet. There are plenty of chemists making designer drugs in their basement labs. Maybe the garage, if they don’t have a basement. Chances are that “somebody” whipped this up and found a trainer to try it. It worked and word got out from there and the trainers (or owners)were purchasing it and administering it on their own. Equally possible it is readily available just south of US border and is being made there and distributed here by non-natives.

          Why is everyone so sure this stuff is being injected?? I have yet to see any written statement saying it is injected. The so called “Mexican Holy Water” the QH guys are killing horses with here in NM is, by all accounts, given orally.

      • tinker

         You can buy it for $80 over the internet or phone.  Know people that have done it.  Its a synthetic form and is in no way as powerful as they say.

  • Mr. Moo

    seriously ???
    soepena the purchase records from the vets and clinics around the area. And their private doctors. Amazing how this stuff drops out of the sky.

  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    GUAFB…PLEASE???…

  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    GUAFB…PLEASE???…

  • Forestwildcat

    Whole lotta fussin an pissin goin on

  • Forestwildcat

    Whole lotta fussin an pissin goin on

  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    AMEN…

  • Forestwildcat

    But seriously, what about the vets that carry and administer the class 1 drugs that they have readily available in their trucks?

  • Forestwildcat

    But seriously, what about the vets that carry and administer the class 1 drugs that they have readily available in their trucks?

  • L Hartley2

    totally agree with you. there should be no room in racing for trainers who drug horses. no second chances, you drug, your banned. and no training while the appeal process drags on for years. and why are vets allowed to have these medications in their vans? is there any valid reason that would have banned drugs in their vans? start suspending vets and watch things turn around a little faster.

    >>Dr. Ed Baronne II, whose Baronne Veterinary Clinic is based in Sunset, La. Loya, who  testified through a translator because he said he did not speak enough English to be confident,<<

    how did he pass his boards?!

  • Shobogirl2

    Is there some kind of rule that says a trainer has to speak good English to pass the trainer’s test. No there is not. I know Alonzo, and while, not judging him guilty or innocent, know that his English is broken. 

  • Five2_Three

    People crack me up with the Sammy Sosa “no speaky English/I need a translator. He doesn’t speak English well, but he can count money and cc’s What a dog show.

  • Hossracergp

    Not really. The absolute insurer rule says they as trainers are responsible no matter how the horses got juiced. Although, neither one of these two seems smart enough to muck stalls let alone pass a trainers test. Time for them to hit the door and never come back.

  • Thelibrarian

    We just can’t imagine how those frogs got in there? WASTE of time! and MONEY!

    • Shobogirl2

      I work at the track, the ‘frog juice’ that they are referring to is actually a snythetic, very easily produced, and not expensive. It has the exact same effect, though. I read an article about a journalist that was in that part of South America, and had a guide….the native tribe where he went put a tiny, tiny amount on the journalist’s wrist, he said he didn’t eat or sleep for 3 days, and thought he was like Superman. All of us at the track, (but the cheaters), are for a no tolerance policy for all Class III drugs, and hopefully, this will be in effect in 2013, which is what New Mexico is in the process of implementing. 

      • tinker

         i have talked to several people who have practical experience with it and it does NOT have same affect.  That is a joke.  If it worked that well the price would STILL be off the charts cuz humans would be using it!  This is not rocket science.

  • Thelibrarian

    We just can’t imagine how those frogs got in there? WASTE of time! and MONEY!

  • tuck miller

    The old “I dunno” defense….  original !
     

  • tuck miller

    The old “I dunno” defense….  original !
     

  • Roisin

    And this drug is being made  by someone and sold by someone. I seriously doubt any sales records exist. Further, I bet the workers on the backstretch have some knowledge re the whole story!!…..comes from S. America, right ? We need some good detective work here and some evidence gathering and then all the talk !!

  • Shobogirl2

    I work at the track, the ‘frog juice’ that they are referring to is actually a snythetic, very easily produced, and not expensive. It has the exact same effect, though. I read an article about a journalist that was in that part of South America, and had a guide….the native tribe where he went put a tiny, tiny amount on the journalist’s wrist, he said he didn’t eat or sleep for 3 days, and thought he was like Superman. All of us at the track, (but the cheaters), are for a no tolerance policy for all Class III drugs, and hopefully, this will be in effect in 2013, which is what New Mexico is in the process of implementing. 

  • nu-fan

    Circusticket:  Yes, but suspended for life.  Let them look for work elsewhere.  They have already made a choice to put horses at risk.  No room for second chances here.  As far as the judicial system, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that these trainers should be allowed back on the track until they are exonerated–if found innocent.  They should be removed from all horse care until then, much like police officers are put on paid administrative leave while an investigation is completed for a shooting.  Otherwise, these trainers may continue contributing to the endangerment of these horses.  Who would pay this?  Perhaps, the owner who hired the trainer.

  • Mr. Moo

    Well actually it’s not as if someone is making it there garage now days it manufacturd but was originally derived from the aformentioned frogs. Legaly proscribed by doctors for sutch things as end stage cancers. Being that it is a schedule III it can only (in a perfect world) be obtained by a licensed “doctor” and those records are by definition kept. Few know but there is nothing in the law that says a vet cannot write a script for any farmicuticle. it is given is that they cannot prescribe for humans. And it is known that vets have “great latatude” when it comes to medications and treatments for anamals. so it’s nothing more than a “doctor” writing a script for a medication, and have it filled at the local drug store. But the drugest would have record of the script. So having said all that somewhere there are records for the original purchase if it was obtained legaly. Ilegaly it’s a fedral DEA,FDA issue

  • L Hartley2

    i am referring to the comment that the vet needed to speak through a translator because he was not confident in english. i wondered how did he pass his veterinary board exams.

  • Arenee

    The paragraph is poorly punctuated.  The one needing the translator is Loya.

    “In Thursday’s cases, trainers Smith and Soileau (who had two horses test
    positive for dermorphin) said  their vet work, including race-day Lasix
    administration, is done by Dr. Ed Baronne II, whose Baronne Veterinary
    Clinic is based in Sunset, La.

    Loya, who  testified through a translator
    because he said he did not speak enough English to be confident, said
    veterinarian Larry Findley or an associate from his Delta Equine Center
    in Vinton, La., gave the race-day Lasix to his horse that tested
    positive.”

  • Sevencentsstable

    Reading for comprehension, again… The period after “Sunset, La” effectively ends that sentence. It is LOYA who doesn’t speak enough English. You would hope trainers in the US could comprehend the language, but nowadays many, many trainers “no comprende”.

  • Sevencentsstable

    Highly doubtful it was obtained through a scrip OR given by a vet. There are plenty of chemists making designer drugs in their basement labs. Maybe the garage, if they don’t have a basement. Chances are that “somebody” whipped this up and found a trainer to try it. It worked and word got out from there and the trainers (or owners)were purchasing it and administering it on their own. Equally possible it is readily available just south of US border and is being made there and distributed here by non-natives.

    Why is everyone so sure this stuff is being injected?? I have yet to see any written statement saying it is injected. The so called “Mexican Holy Water” the QH guys are killing horses with here in NM is, by all accounts, given orally.

  • L Hartley2

    gotcha!

  • tinker

     i have talked to several people who have practical experience with it and it does NOT have same affect.  That is a joke.  If it worked that well the price would STILL be off the charts cuz humans would be using it!  This is not rocket science.

  • tinker

     You can buy it for $80 over the internet or phone.  Know people that have done it.  Its a synthetic form and is in no way as powerful as they say.

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