Quarter horse trainer Bassett banned 10 years for frog juice
John H. Bassett, a past American Quarter Horse Association champion trainer and two-time winner of the sport's premier event, the All-American Futurity, has been suspended a total of 10 years and fined $10,000 after two horses in his care tested positive for the prohibited Class 1 drug dermorphin. The drug, said to be 40 times more powerful than morphine, is widely known as frog juice because it is derived, in its natural form, from secretions of South American tree frogs.
Vince Mares, director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, confirmed Bassett's suspension and fine, which was handed out Saturday after a stewards hearing at Zia Park. The penalties (five-year suspension and $5,000 fine for each violation) are the maximum permitted under New Mexico law at the time of the infractions. The New Mexico legislature has since passed stricter penalty guidelines for horseracing medication violations.
Bassett is the first of three trainers whose cases are to be heard by New Mexico stewards for positive dermorphin tests after the May 25 Ruidoso Futurity trials. Eight of the 25 trial winners (and one third-place finisher) tested positive for the drug. Hearings are scheduled next weekend for J. Heath Reed, who had five horses test positive for dermorphin, and Carlos Sedillo, who had two.
The two Bassett-trained horses were: Don't Tell Lila, owned by Mason King and Kim Kessinger, winner of a trial heat; and Head Trauma, owned by Lyle Guillory, third in a trial heat.
The Maddy Laboratory at the University of California-Davis detected the dermorphin in the Ruidoso tests, despite the fact the New Mexico Racing Commission has a contract with the Iowa State University lab for its drug testing program. Split samples were confirmed at Texas A&M.
Fifteen dermorphin positives were detected from horses racing in Oklahoma this spring, though no complaints have been filed or individuals named in those cases. Louisiana has reported 11 dermorphin positives and Nebraska one. According to sources, dermorphin has been detected in at least one horse competing in Texas, but the racing commission there has not confirmed any findings. Industrial Labs in Colorado and Louisiana State University laboratory were involved in the Oklahoma and Louisiana cases that were believed to involve a synthetic form of the drug. Truesdail in California detected the Nebraska dermorphin.
Bassett, 63, was AQHA champion trainer in 2001 and a 2011 inductee into the Ruidoso Downs Hall of Fame. He is one of Quarter horse racing's most prominent horsemen. The son of Joe “Bear” Bassett, who died in 1973 when John Bassett was in his early 20s, he took over his father's stable in Northern California. He has won nearly every major Quarter horse race at Los Alamitos and Ruidoso Downs, including the All American Futurity in 1999 and 2001, three editions of the Rainbow Futurity, the Ruidoso Derby, Los Alamitos Million, El Primero Del Ano Derby, All American Derby, and John Deere Challenge Championship, among others. Bassett's son, Joe, is a successful Quarter horse trainer as well.
It was not immediately known if Bassett will appeal the suspension and fine.