More Comes to Light in California Trainer Suspension Case
Some details were left out of last month's California Horse Racing Board “enforcement update,” which explained why trainer Genaro Vallejo received only a 90-day suspension (with 60 days stayed if there are no further violations) and a $3,000 fine for a Class 1 drug violation. The Golden Gate Fields board of stewards originally recommended a one-year suspension and $10,000 fine.
Vallejo trained Red Dwarf, who tested positive for zilpaterol after winning an April 12, 2012, maiden claiming race at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California. At the time, zilpaterol was not categorized under CHRB rules and considered Class 1 by default. By the time the case was settled and approved by CHRB chairman David Israel, the California regulatory board classified zilpaterol as a Class 3 drug though under Class A penalties – the most severe level.
Zilpaterol is a feed additive used to promote growth in cattle and has no therapeutic use in horses.
Ten months after the Red Dwarf positive, there was a rash of 48 zilpaterol positives in California – many of them reportedly at a harness racing track in Sacramento. The drug was traced to a specific plant producing sweet feed for Purina. All of those cases were dismissed because the feed was contaminated. More recently, racing officials in Hong Kong experienced a similar zilpaterol contamination.
Red Dwarf was the first Thoroughbred in California to test positive for zilpaterol, though there had been confirmed positives in Quarter horses racing at Los Alamitos. Red Dwarf had been transferred from the barn of William Delia to Vallejo less than one month before the April 12 race. The CHRB took blood samples from five horses in Delia's barn to determine if any of them tested for zilpaterol. None did. Out-of-competition testing was conducted on six horses in Vallejo's barn (not including Red Dwarf). Zilpaterol was detected in blood samples in four of those horses.
Philip DeMeo, attorney for Vallejo, hired a private investigator who testified before the board of stewards that there was a lack of security at the Golden Gate Fields walk-in stable gate. Vallejo himself testified, according to the proposed decision from the board of stewards, that “an individual by the name of Christian Lunes was hanging around his barn and was allowed to do chores without being on the payroll or on the trainers work list.” Vallejo told the stewards he never asked Lunes if he had a CHRB license “as he was not going to keep him although he was there for two or three months.” Nick Hines, whose Battle Born Racing Stable owned Red Dwarf at the time of the infraction, testified that Lunes was a groom who “accompanied horses from Mr. Vallejo's barn that ran in Southern California.”
Vallejo denied having any knowledge about zilpaterol and told stewards he did not administer it to his horses. His attending veterinarian, Kim Kuhlmann, D.V.M., said he has never used the substance. Kuhlmann also testified his research “indicated that zilpaterol would not be detected in the urine 12 days following an administration.”
CHRB investigator Barbara Chimero testified that no unusual feed additives or supplements were found in Vallejo's barn. Vallejo told Chimero he mixed and prepared all feed supplements for his horses. Samples of those products were taken to the Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at the University of California-Davis, where they tested negative, according to Scott Stanley, chief chemist at the lab.
Vallejo's attorney argued that the charge against the trainer should be dropped over “due process concerns” because Stanley did not personally perform the tests of Red Dwarf's sample. He also argued that the confidentiality of the split sample – sent to and confirmed for zilpaterol at the Pennsylvania Research and Toxicology Laboratory – was compromised because the lab was informed of the substance detected in the original testing. The attorney also argued that zilpaterol was not added to the CHRB prohibited drug list until July 2012, three months after the Red Dwarf positive.
Those points were rejected, but the timing of when feed samples were gathered was an important point that led to a lighter penalty against Vallejo. Contrary to the CHRB equine medical director's operating procedures, samples are to be taken at the time a trainer is notified of a positive test. Because samples were not taken at that time and instead were collected two weeks later, CHRB officials apparently felt their case against Vallejo was flawed, especially since attorney DeMeo raised contamination as a central issue.
So, even though one horse trained by Genaro Vallejo tested positive post-race for what was then a Class 1 drug and four of six others in his barn tested positive for the same drug in out-of-competition samples, the CHRB effectively reduced a recommended one-year suspension to one month.