California Stewards Investigate Race Ride, Barn of Churchill Maiden Winner

by | 05.08.2014 | 11:07am
A.C. Avila, trainer of Masochistic

California Chrome wasn't the only California-bred to make an impression at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Seven hours before the Kentucky Derby, trainer A. C. Avila sent a 4-year-old Cal-bred with one prior start out to win the day's third race, a six-furlong maiden special weight contest, by a whopping 14 lengths.

More than a few eyebrows were raised as the horse named Masochistic stopped the teletimer in 1:08.85 after leading throughout. The race was marred by a three-horse spill in which at least two other runners that finished the race were affected. Spill or no spill, it would have taken a Pegasus-like effort to catch the Avila trainee, who races for Los Pollos Hermanos Racing and Santa Ines Stable.

If Los Pollos Hermanos rings a bell, it should, if you were a fan of the “Breaking Bad” series on AMC. It's the fictitious fast-food chain owned by the character Gustavo “Gus” Fring.

The Derby day race was a marked improvement from Masochistic's previous effort, when the son of Sought After was never a factor, finishing fifth in a field of eight California-breds going to the post in a state-restricted maiden race at Santa Anita Park March 15.

In that race, Masochistic was ridden by Omar Berrio, regular rider in Southern California for Avila, a 60-year-old native of Brazil who came to the United States in 1990.

Victor Espinoza, who later on Derby day would win the Kentucky Derby aboard California Chrome, handled Masochistic for his maiden-breaking score.

Masochistic's March 15 debut was anything but normal.

Fourth choice in the betting at 8-1 that day, Berrio sat like a statue on the horse for nearly the entire six furlongs, weaving back and forth behind horses, then diving to the rail in the stretch. The ride was so lethargic the jockey was called in the next morning for a video review with the stewards, at which he was accompanied by Jockeys' Guild representative Darrel Haire.

“There was no discussion of the pertinent facts as a formal hearing will be set in the near future,” the stewards wrote in their daily minutes. “The Board of Stewards was concerned that Mr. Berrio prevented his horse from giving his best race. The horse was examined and tested post-race, and the CHRB investigators were directed to look into the matter.”

Three weeks later, blood and urine samples came back positive for the tranquilizer Acepromazine, a Class 3 drug under California Horse Racing Board rules. A complaint filed by the stewards said a search of Avila's barn uncovered “medication bottles with blank veterinarian prescription labels attached or no prescription labels at all.”

California stewards were concerned about the ride given to Masochistic in his debut

California stewards were concerned about the ride given to Masochistic in his debut

Stewards have yet to conduct a hearing for either Berrio or Avila. “There still is an active investigation in the Berrio matter, so a hearing date hasn't been set,” said Mike Marten, a spokesman for the CHRB. “Avila has asked for a hearing officer. No date has been set for his hearing.”

Daily Racing Form quoted Avila in early April as saying Masochistic is “a difficult horse to ride and that the intention (in the March 15 race) was for Berrio to save his mount to the stretch before asking for an effort.”

Masochistic may have been the worst-kept secret in racing on May 3. Set at 4-1 on the morning line, he was bet down immediately, finally drifting up to 2-1 and paying $6.20 to win. Maybe it was the fast workouts at Santa Anita following his debut (1:10 4/5 and 1:11 4/5 for six furlongs), although he worked in 1:11 1/5 before that March 15 race and was a fat 8-1.

It's curious to some why Avila would go to the expense of sending a California-bred all the way to Kentucky to compete against open maidens for a purse of $53,777 (winner's share $30,540)  when contests like the March 15 race at Santa Anita paid $33,600 to the winner (plus a $17,500 Cal-bred bonus) and the competition in California was likely easier.  Avila makes no bones about the fact that he is a betting man. He once said he cashed a $110,000 wager in Brazil, picking four consecutive exactas without handicapping, after having a dream.

Was the March 15 maiden race at Santa Anita a set-up for this Derby Day contest or just a “tightener” for a horse that was making his first career start? We'll leave it up to the CHRB stewards to decide.

I do know that sometimes you have to be a masochist to play this game.

Note: The original version of this story misstated the Churchill Downs maiden purse as being higher than the California purse.)

  • Roger

    I applaud the Stewards for their action with regards to the suspicious ride/effort….long overdue
    and if CA had Exchange Wagering at the time, the jock should receive the same consequence
    from the Stewards.

  • Tinky

    Excellent reporting, Ray. Thanks!

    Oh, and perhaps Chuchill could show replays of Masochistic’s two races on their $12m video board over the coming weeks in order to ‘educate’ the fans.

  • HogHater

    Horse was a complete standout on “The Sheets”, was getting 2nd Lasix, had great workouts and was, IMO, given a test drive is his first race for a betting barn. What’s to investigate? 2-1 was an absolute gift, especially when you got to hear Jill Byrne in the pre-race comments completely ignoring a very live horse. I’m sure that shipping was chump change compared to the betting score that was made playing into the big Derby Day pools.

    • Whats to investigate? Are you effing kidding me? He tested positive for the tranquilizer Acepromazine in his debut.

      • HogHater

        You’re right, he tested positive in his 1st race. It was noted in the pp’s that he’d been disqualified from purse monies. The Santa Anta incident was already under scrutiny before the CD race. What else needs to be done?

        • excuses4incomp

          Ban every one involved! would you feel comfortable betting on AC horses, or putting them in your pick 6 if you didn’t know if they where going to let the horse run or not? That is the perception of the betting public now!

    • Stuart H.

      Perhaps they should investigate Jill Byrne’s handicapping skills…if it potentially drove down the odds at post, huh?

      But seriously, this has as much to do with the last race and whoever bet on the horse when he was apparently drugged and stiffed! If you can’t see the chicanery going on here and the abuse of this horse then that is part of what is wrong with this game…

  • G, Rarick

    Los Pollos Hermanos Racing? Priceless! They aced it the first time and bet the ranch on the second. Clearly, these guys come from Hollywood. And they’re getting away with it. Simply amazing.

  • Joel

    This “investigation” is a joke! Countless out of town horsemen enter horses on KD day, because they want to be a part of the festivities. Many times, they don’t even have a chance. Countless trainers also bet on their horses, as well as others’. Second time starters has long been one of the best angles in handicapping. Giving a debut runner a race is something many of the most respected trainers in the game do ALL THE TIME. Not to mention, this particular horse had works that were off the charts since his debut. Not exactly the best way to help the odds go up.
    It’s painfully obvious that these stewards have a bone to pick with A.C. Otherwise this type of investigation would be a daily occurrence with many of the top trainers in the country. It’s a cowardly move to pick on the “little guy” for doing what the “big guys” do so frequently. IMO, it’s the stewards themselves that need more governing!

    • bob

      Earth to Joel !! The horse tested POSITIVE for Acepromazine….a tranquilizer. Given to a horse to slow him down. A class 3 violation. Maybe you can hang out with the “little guy”
      while he is serving his 6 month suspension.

      • betterthannothing

        LOL Bob. Joel only missed that little detail…

        Are sponges out these days? Is any racetrack checking horses for them after suspicious races?

        I hope Berrio did not whip his poor tranquilized horse.

        A.C. Avila sure looks the part! I hope he and his gang pay dearly!

        • Joel

          Intelligent analysis………..”A.C. Avila sure looks the part!” Really???? Maybe he should be banned for life for “looking the part”. Heck, maybe sunglasses should be banned too! They are obviously making him “look the part”. Dark skin too??? I’ve seen plenty of ignorant comments here, but “A.C. Avila sure looks the part” is BY FAR the most ignorant yet. LOL

        • Joel

          “he and his gang”
          I can’t stop laughing at your comment!

        • Mimi H

          Ray did say that Berrio say there and did no urging – so there is that

      • Joel

        Investigating a drug violation, of any kind, is fair enough. I agree. It’s all this other B.S. that would not even have been considered if it were a Pletcher, Baffert, etc, horse moving up several lengths after a poor debut effort. An “investigation” on the little guys for something that would not turn a head otherwise is discrimination. I mean come on……what, are they going to suspend Omar Berrio? Ewwww, that’ll teach em! LOL. As far as Avila goes, stewards have no right to question why he would ship to CD to be a part of one of the greatest days in racing! Or why would run a Cal bred against open company! They don’t even have the right to question him for betting his own horse. Most trainers do, because it’s within the rules.

        • Stuart H.

          Pletcher is one of the few trainers that can take a horse that has been completely under the radar and place him in a grade 1 and have the horse go off at 41-1 and then win for fun, and have the entire racing world marveling how he did such a great job to get him ready for the race and the resulting leap in speed figures. Any other trainer and they would be in that barn day and night to find out what happened…

          Not saying the horse was not legit, his Derby was pretty nice. But it is an interesting point. But as far as I know, the horse has been clean in all of his tests. But Pletcher, Asmussen, etc. have been on the wrong end of many a drug or perf enhancer test…

          Having said all this, the investigation of Avila is warranted.

          • Joel

            Agreed Stuart, but the investigation should be limited to a drug violation. Same as it would be for ANY other trainer.

      • Larry Ensor

        No disrespect but Ace will have the complete opposite effect of what you described. IMO and experience and I have lots of it if anything Ace should be considered a performance enhancer. But not in the sense of “hopping” the horse up but rather “settling” its “mind”, nerves and allowing the horse to focus on its job and run to the best of its ability.
        Every horse just like human metabolize meds differently. Ace is relatively short acting depending dosage and the horse a couple of hours at best. But it can be detected by testing for days if not considerably longer depending on the horse. It has little to no side effects IME. And none that I have seen on the health and welfare a horse. Especially when compared to other permitted race day meds.
        I am not condoning something that is prohibited on race day just setting the record straight.

        • Beach

          Sounds to me a lot like Xanax for people, but a different class of drug. Yet when you “even out” the mood, one might never know what that is going to look like, especially when you add in physical activity like racing. YOU have experience using it, of course–but as you say, each horse is different. And, on the whole, if it’s not permitted on race day, many people(excepting cheaters, of course) don’t use it on race day so there’s less anecdotal data on that score.

          Not horses of course, but I’ve met plenty of people where, when you even out their mood(ie, not necessarily “sedation”), they still get or feel awfully sleepy.

          This really REEKS…

          • Larry Ensor

            Yea, I suppose you could look as Xanax but from what I understand Xanax is long lasting and addictive? Ace in a proper dosage for the horse is very subtle. With an IM injection it takes around an hour or less to have an effect and wears off for the most part within 2 at the most. It has very little effect on horse that is already agitated. They are not “legless” nor dopy when it is used properly. It lessens or alleviates their anticipation, anxiousness allowing for them to focus on what is being asked. Contrary to popular believe they do remember and process what is being asked as studies have proven.
            I have always found that all horses, at least the many, many that I have worked with over the years since childhood to have a exact and predicable “mood”, demeanor.

            “one might never know what that is going to look like, especially when you add in physical activity like racing”

            It would be intuitive to think this and completely understandable. I have never found this to be the case, regardless of what is being asked. I have never run a horse “under rules” with Ace, but I have fox hunted, trained, schooled over steeplechase fences and run them in training races. The have always been completely predictable. And with the tough ones a lot more enjoyable to ride and train.
            Of course just like any med if not used correctly or is abused there will be undesirable ramifications.
            I am not a advocated for any type of medication just to keep a horse able to run. But I suppose if I had one choice of medication to be allowed it would be Ace. As I basically said to Barry Irwin.

          • Beach

            I don’t mind hearing/reading this and your experience is worth A LOT. To answer the Xanax question, it’s not particularly long-acting(unlike Valium, which will hang around for days); but, yes, very addicting. And I’m not surprised you’d see a wear-off in horses so quickly; I’d have to look at everyone’s metabolic rates(and also certain drug half-lives, which of course affects its physical “clearance”), but on the whole, other mammals’ metabolisms tend to be pretty different from ours. Thanks for writing.

        • bob

          That can be true in many cases as far as the effect. My guess is they tried it out on him during a workout and it slowed him down some. They were most likely try to get this horse to run farther back to avoid being tested after the race. But Barrios ride drew the attention of the stewards after the race and they had him tested. Not a smart move since “Ace” is an easy drug to detect now a days. I am giving them 2 mulligans for a poor plan.

      • allikatcdn

        One thing you guys might find interesting is that, Ace -in very low doses- is actually performance enhancing (ask Dr Tobin, his research bore that out). Also, Ace is widely used for: 1 fractious misbehavors; 2 horses that frequently tie up(excessive, acute & debilitating muscle cramping); 3 to reduce the incidence of bleeding outside the plura; 4 when clipping & / or shipping. Further, if given daily -in very low doses to combat particularily 1 and /or 2, it is a medication that ‘stacks’ in the horses system resulting in ‘positive tests’ even when none was administered in the perscribed withdrawl window. It may be administered by: 1 pill (somewhat unreliable results, administered by groom or assistant); 2 IV dose by the attending vet (most reliable, immediate response & requiring the smallest amount); 3 IM dose for a slower onset of effect (administered by attending vet); 4 oral dose of liquid ace suspension (this generally requires a higher dosage but is done by groom / assistant). If there was alot ‘on board’ in the first race, then no jock in his right mind is going to ‘ask’ the horse to run – it feels like your horse has 6 legs & no co-ordination. Until the FULL TESTING RESULTS (the Mass Spectometry levels which are so precise they can detect with considered certainty the time of administration) are released, EVERYTHING here is pure speculation & those ravenous executioners salavating for blood would be better served in voicing the need for transparency & education & presentation of ALL the facts, rather than feasting on bits & scraps to satiate your palates.

  • jttf

    this horse is very talented. breaks out in 22 flat and is hand ridden. his race was faster than the grade 1 and grade 2 stakes that day. he has a higher distance tomlinson number than any kentucky derby runner. his connections must live in denmark.

    • betterthannothing

      Yet another barn in which horses should be under 24/7 surveillance and strict substance control at all time…

  • excuses4incomp

    This is the kind of crap that gives racing a bad reputation, this is why gambling dollars are going to other forms of gaming. People that come on here and say “this is a bogus investigation” are a bunch of idiots. People that actually know the business know that they where playing the gambling game. The held the horse first time out. Then sent him to churchill under the radar to cash a gamble on the horse. The horse going to churchill and running is not the problem. It was the no-ride,aced trick they play on the gambling public. THEY NEED TO GET RID OF EVERYONE INVOLVED. MAKE A SAMPLE OUT OF THESE GUYS. It’s not just the drugging the horse the more serious offense, is defrauding the public from a fair gamble. Don’t forget our sport revolves and lives off of the gambling public.

    • Bellwether

      Makes me think of the Life At Ten deal that unfolded @ churchill???…”They need to get rid of everyone involved”…Amen and ty…

    • Lisa Johnson

      6.20 to win is certainly NOT cashing a gamble and he was never under the radar with those works….he very well could have paid more in CA and like the story says, would have also collected a nice chunk of change with the added CAL bred bonus. But people like to take risks. Especially gamblers like Avila. It cost him to try and steal one at churchill. But perhaps the owners hoped to have a Churchill Downs win photo. There’s nothing wrong with what he did. The only wrong doing is having tested positive for ace, which will cost him even more. Avila didn’t have to use that on him to make him run ‘lethargic’ as they called it….there’s non-drug ways to have a horse not run lights out.

  • Charles Smith

    Between the tranquilizing of the horse and the hammer lock Omar Berrios had on him every step in his first start, it had to be clear what the barn’s intention was, yet the two racing commissions combined didn’t do a freaking thing to stop Avila and the horse’s other connections from pulling off a huge betting coup at the public’s expense. If the racing authorities were powerless to act, all Churchill Downs had to do was exercise private property rights and exclude the horse and his connections, but that was way too much to hope for from CDI. The whole incident is shameful and I have no belief that the California authorities will take meaningful action against Avila or Barrio. Shame on you, CHRB.

    • ginger2000

      I agree. Why is there always the lame statement that an investigation is under way. How long does it take? The horse was drugged. The trainer admits he is a gambler. What else is there to know??

      • biggar

        Is it against the rules to gamble? I don’t know how admitting that you gamble figures into anything. If they know that he bet on this race that’s another matter.

      • south florida tom

        The trainer being a gambler and betting on his horse (or any horse) is not an issue. It’s legal and it’s common.

        • Mimi H

          But attempting to ‘fix’ the odds isn’t. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

          • south florida tom

            All they can get him for is the tranquilizer in the horse’s system during the California race. I wish the authorities can nail him for more, but I doubt it.

          • Bellwether

            Just a short time ago we would have never herd about this kind of crap going on…The PR has found its calling…Kudos to Ray and the PR for stepping up to the plate…Dynamite public service reporting…ty…

          • betterthannothing

            Racing gives everyone including its miscreants plenty of rope since it can’t police itself properly and eventually miscreants “hang themselves” then are forced to lay low at least for a while. Of course that does not apply to the “too big to fail” who still get big owners who want to win at all costs and their big horses.

        • FastBernieB

          Stiffing the horse by use of a tranquilizer in the race prior to the legal bet is the issue. Nothing short of a lifetime ban for the trainer is suitable in this case.

          • south florida tom

            That’s what I typed. If ACE is against the rules on race day, then the trainer should be punished.

    • Stuart H.

      Over the pond they suspend jocks for not fully riding to the wire…and it happens pretty regularly because I read the reports. And these are not wrist slaps, the last (I forget his name) was suspended 6 months.

      Here we have a jockey that throws a hammer lock on the horse reins and between that and the drugs the horse could barely run…and nowhere near to form. And yet all they can do is investigate…and slap wrists? Why is this any surprise…You can leave the rail completely open on a speed horse here knowing full well your horse could be run down. Failing to close the door overseas could and does leave to suspensions…

      They don’t tolerate the BS over there. And yet here almost unlimited discretion is given to these jockeys. The crooks know it…and that is their “in”. So when a blatant case of stiffing a horse comes up the jockey and his attorney have case law and precedent on their side that all they will get is a slap. The trainer knows that betting on his horse and even making sure the horse is stiffed last out to juice the odds will at best get a finger pointing no-no from the “authorities.” The risk-reward makes it all worthwhile, and meanwhile the betting public and this game seems oblivious..

      • ginger2000

        You’re absolutely right. There is no real punishment here so there is little deterrent. It’s a sickening joke. Why was there no immediate action when it was found the horse was on Ace AND clearly the jockey did not ride to win? I don’t understand what further investigation was needed to take action.

      • Beach

        Thanks for this–between Ray’s post and the comments I was trying to figure this out, and the whole thing makes me nauseous, but what stuck out to me most was why any jockey would participate in this crap–I admit, a naive statement.

        Like you, I prefer the way they handle it in Britain. Drugged horse and a hammer lock on the reins? And not a single one of them cares about the danger to that horse and others(including people)–and then this trainer is allowed to continue making entries, and Berrio can continue to ride.

        Were I Espinoza I would seriously rethink any mounts for this trainer. And the CHRB should look at what is right in front of their faces…HELLLLLOOOOOO :/

      • betterthannothing

        I wonder if the owners will be investigated at all. They had to be in the coup.

    • tradesignal

      Some horses actually may run better tranquilized, because They stay more relaxed, or what ever. Maybe that’s why the rider had to work so hard to keep him from winning, by Twenty? Common sense would say they would be slower. But thoroughbreds have very little common sense
      Looks like there may have been a big exotic play, that may not have come in! They probably could never find that!

  • Jay

    We can only hope Mr. White is not involved.

  • glimmerglass

    Better Call Saul.

  • Richard C

    There are so many red flags — the track has to order more red flags.

    • betterthannothing

      The cesspool keeps growing! What’s next? Forget about ordering more red flags! Those in charge prefer to ignore them if they can get away with it.

  • david

    ROFLMAO. NO QUESTION it was a put-over. Luckily for me a buddy called me at 2MTP to tell me the story of how Berrio stiffed the horse first out (the official Equibase chart all but says so) and how the horse tested positive for a tranquilizer. I’ve been told Avila’s stable bet the snot out of the horse which is why he only paid $6.

    My winning bet aside (which wasn’t very large) it is another black eye for a sport that’s had more than its fair share lately. Forget suspending the connections, I’d really like to see the FBI investigate this. Reminds me of the old days back in Boston with Errico and the Winter Hill Gang.

    • betterthannothing

      I would like to see the FBI investigate this and many other things as well. I can’t recall what the big, ugly issue was a few years ago but a very frustrated Mike Marten (CHRB spokesman) told me after a CHRB meeting at Del Mar that the FBI had been contacted but was not interested to investigate. How interested is the FBI today?

      • Mimi H

        Maybe if a big enough stink was made, they might be interested in doing something – especially if more things are found.

  • moses

    I’d love to book all the action from the folks that bet this horse.
    Avila a 60year degen loser finally cashes and they investigate-it is hilarious.

  • Craig

    I commented about this on DRF last Thursday and said that outside of California Chrome that this was the easiest winner on the card…I was wrong this was easier then California Chrome…I watched the replay numerous times of his maiden race and it was obvious that he wasn’t given a chance to run the entire stretch…The trainer clearly decided to ship him to CD because it was a derby day undercard and he knew that he could get the best value because so many people bet that day…if he stays at SA and runs he is 3-5 so the 2-1 the trainer/owners got were a gift and counterfeited the betting public…I’m glad this is under investigation because their is something clearly not right here.

  • kochrepellent

    They don’t call A.,C.. “The Witch Doctor” for nothing.

  • Bellwether

    I know a few (very) trainers that would never bet on a race that they have a Horse running in…NEVER!!!…

  • Jay Stone

    Cashing a bet is one thing but the rest of this story is pretty bad. Watching the replay the horse was obviously held and on top of that they put him to sleep with Ace. The state is incapable of dealing with this group but once again the Feds could come in and deal with them under federal statutes.

  • Choyawon

    Ask Victor Espinoza’s agent why he put Victor on a 2nd time out Maiden on the day he was scheduled to ride the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

    • bob

      They bet for him $$$$$

    • Stuart H.

      They were laughing on Steve Byk’s radio show about how Victor probably made more money on that maiden horse than the Derby winner ride. It is no secret they pounded him at the windows.

    • harry

      Excellent point!

  • This on top of the news about Asmussen on May 11th?

    • Mimi H

      And as many others that can be found. Shining a bright light on the whole problem should help some.

      • Beach

        GOOD. I hope and pray so.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    The one issue here is the fact the horse was potentially drugged for the race (I say potentially because the level of Ace in his system was not divulged…therefore was it given on race day or just trace amounts left in his system). Forget about trainer or jockey for a minute…and to me the fact is until this investigation was completed and a ruling made…the horse should not have been allowed to run again. I think by stopping a horse from competing will make some people think twice about what they are doing…and perhaps get the owners to put pressure on the investigating bodies to actually conduct a thorough and timely investigation on things. In addition, to protect the bettor, the past performances should have a way of delineating that a horse tested positive for a substance in whatever race was involved.

    • Jay

      You are correct. The horse should not have been allowed to start again until the issues with his initial start had been resolved. But, apparently, you are not aware of the ineptitude of the CHRB.

      • Joyce Edwards

        However, this explains why they shipped him to CD to run!!! Don’t think SA would allow him to run!

        • Jay

          No. If Santa Anita at the direction of the stewards had said he could not run, CDI would have honored that decision.

  • Carmel Spaulding

    Not to mention he had great workout reports.

  • Hamish

    Wow. If all the conditions set forth here are true, sounds like “Race Rigging 101” at play and folks that were involved in the scam should forever be banned from horse racing. It’s just that simple.

    • Bellwether


  • Keith Rogers

    I sold a yearling at the Texas Yearling sale , he is now a 4 yr. old.And guess who is training him ,that’s right Mr.Avila . Water has had 4 outs 012 , whats next ?

  • RayS

    Just watch the replay and it shoud tell you something. Berrio strangled that horse and never let him go…the horse probably would won if he let him run. What a joke.
    I applaud the stewards for investigating. Avila (who is known around the track to be a bit of a slimeball as it is) knew darn-well what he was doing and he should be punished severely for it.

  • marlon

    Its amazing how someone can cast a stone without first knowing the facts. Acepromazine is not allowed on raceday because it actually IS a performance enhancer. Understand, people, that if trainers were allowed to race their horses on acepromazine, it would actually enhance their chances of winning. The public hears the word “tranquilizer” and automatically thinks that it stops the horse. To the contrary, acepromazine has the opposite effect. Avila did not use the acepromazine drug to stop, or hinder, the horse in his debut. Im pretty sure he stiffed masachistic first time out, however, i can make a good case for why he didnt stiff, as well. Sure, the debut looks suspicious but jockey, Berrio, looks like he is falling off his mounts even when he is trying to win! He has no legs left! Pull up the video of the mount “room for me” when he ran 2nd on 2/2/14 at santa anita. The guy is trying to win…yet it appears that he is doing everything to keep from falling off. This acepromazine argument i am hearing here is completely faulty. Leae that out of the discussion. If a trainer wants to stop a horse from running, he will let it drink five gallons of water the morjning of the race. But to give acepromazine knowing full well he will get a positive? C’mon people. AC Avila is smarter than that. Please consider the facts before u, the disgruntled horseplayer, try to hang this guy.

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      Please don’t try and use logic and common sense on this forum. After all, these people are “experts” at all things horse racing.

      • Beach

        Logic and common sense? Like, “If it’s not allowed on race day, it’s not allowed on race day?” And I don’t even need to be an “expert” to know that…

    • allikatcdn

      My sentiments exactly.

    • Tommy2Tone

      Just wondering if Berrios had a little too much ACE pre race.

  • Barry Irwin

    This incident reminds me of the stuff Dr. Alex Harthill lived for, cashing a bet on Derby Day and betting into the massive amount of dummy money bet by people that rarely go racing. Doc would go to elaborate extremes to win these bets, but rarely did he ever click at odds higher than this horse went off at. It was all kind of silly.

    BTW, I once asked Doc what drug he would use if he had his choice to get a horse to run up to its best. The surprising answer: you guessed it, ACE! He said that most racehorses were too high strung and a bit of Ace took the edge off. Show horse riders have known this for ever. So if you think Avila was trying to slow down this horse in his debut, you better guess again.

    BTW again, if Avila was trying to hide the horse, he would not have worked it so fast so often.

    • Larry Ensor

      I am sure I am going to get flamed maybe by you and others but IMO and experience Ace should be one of the very few race day meds allowed. As I replied to an earlier commenter Ace could be considered a PED but not in the true sense of the term. IMO it settles their mind and allows them to focus on their job and run to the best of their ability.
      IMO it would help “morning glories” run to the level that their workouts seem to indicated. IMO more then any other “therapeutic med” that is allowed.

      I think it may lessen if not eliminate bleeding in a lot of horses. IME it helps tremendous with nervous horses that have wind conditions. Pretty much eliminates entrapment. For around 5 cents a dose. IME there are little to no side effects, none that I have seen only read about. It has no detrimental effects on the horse’s welfare and or well-being that I am aware of or seen. In short IMO there would be a lot more completive horses out there if the use of Ace was allowed. Good for the owners, trainers and the game. Just include it in the PPs as is done with Lasix and Bute.
      I would like to think that any horsemen will tell you it’s not ability that generally gets in the way of a horse being competitive, but it’s mind.

      Thoroughbreds ruled the show/Sporthorse world up until the early-mid 70s. But a certain level of Ace was allowed in those days. Then the warmblood breeders launched a well orchestrated marketing campaign and had it banned. Warmbloods have a lot of Thoroughbred blood in them but have been “dumbed” down with cross breeding.

      As a Thoroughbred breeder I do more then my fair share of “re-schooling” ex-racers as an obligation to the breed. There is no money in it by and large. Lucky to break even when re-homed. I get horses whose minds have been “fried” either by the way they have been handled and or trained or by nature.
      IMO if it weren’t for the therapeutic judicial use of Ace they would have never been useful for the average pleasure horse owner. It is a training aid. The vast majority do not need to “live” on it. Some say that same can be accomplished given time. With a lot of horses maybe so. But time is expensive and considering the “after market” is extremely thin for these horses getting from A to B has to be done quickly as possible to make it financially viable. Most re-schooled Thoroughbreds are re-homed at a loss because of the buying publics perception of the breed.

      I would vote to allow the use of Ace on race day and put it in the program. I don’t say this lightly. Anyone that has read my comments over the years know that I am not a “meds” proponent. But I do believe some do have their place.

      I am not condoning the use of any prohibited medications to cash a bet or win a race.

      I am ready for a beating so flame on.

      • Barry Irwin

        Oh c’mon now!!!

        How was that?

        But seriously, the reason no drugs should be allowed in a horse’s system on race day is simply because if horses have to be medicated to compete, we a) don’t have a viable sport, because you cannot name another sport worthy of the name anywhere in the world where athletes are drugged in order to compete and b) it can be reasoned that medicating horses is abusive in spite of what the vets proclaim. That the rub in a nutshell.

        • Larry Ensor

          I hear what you are saying. And don’t completely disagree. If we are going to have “hay, oats and water” race day horses then so be it. I’m for it. But if we are going to allow the use of Lasix so as to give those that are perceived to be bleeders and those that are to “provide” a level playing field. If we allow the use of Bute which I am not entirely against when used judicially. Why not a proven beneficial med that has little to no side affects of any concern? Horses that bleed may benefit, a lot horses that have wind conditions do benefit.

          “it can be reasoned that medicating horses is abusive in spite of what the vets proclaim”

          Well, there are two sides to look at this. If not many. All of which have been hashed out and debated to near death in the last few years. I do not put the use of Ace in the same category. It will not “make” a horse run faster or harder, it will not “mask” nor alleviate pain and or discomfort which IMO “therapeutic meds” that are allowed in everyday training can and will do. And in the long run to the determent of the horse and its usefulness after being retired from racing. As we know the majority of horses have a short career on the track relative to their useful life spans. But their “usefulness” can be greatly shorten by being kept in training through the use of “therapeutic” sport medication and treatment practices. This is well know to the “after market” which can make it very difficult to re-home them. IMO if we really want to “do right by the horse” mandate that every horse in training must be given X amount of time off for R&R each year.

          As I have said over the years in my comments the sport and industry has to come to grips with the fact times are changing. The “social order” of things are and will continue to change exponentially with the advent of social media. For good and bad. Training and owning horses is a “numbers” game. The Cali Chromes are far and few. So, do we just breed and produce in numbers to replace those that will not stand up to and perform to the best of their abilities because of the wear and tear of racing? As has been the norm in the past. The majority of which did not find “happy pastures” when it was determined that they were “useless” as racehorses. No matter how much the racing industry shrinks in terms of racing days it will still and always be a game of numbers. Nature of the beast.
          I believe it is better that racehorses stay productive much longer on the racetrack. I would like to see far more money being thrown at older horses. Prize money getting bigger with age. Reducing the need to breed more each year. Giving more incentive to look after and train young horses with knowing that their prime opportunity is at 5+ instead of 2 and 3.
          As I said earlier there are a lot of very talented horses that never run to their potential if they run at all because of mind issues. IMO. I guess you have been lucky to have never had one. As I said earlier instead of these horses being disposed of at great expense to all and themselves I firmly believe the use of Ace would be of great benefit to all especially the horse. To categorize the use of Ace as “abusive” is self-serving and incorrect.

          We used to warehouse people with emotional issues at great cost. Millions now benefit from the good that psychotropic medications have brought to their lives and society. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are not a number of top human athletes that have benefited from the same over the years. I am all for “hay, oats and water”, if you were to look up my horses entered in Steeplechase races you will not see any med “letters” next to their name.
          But I do understand both sides of the argument to a certain point. I hear what you and others are saying and for the most part agree. My comment in regards to the use of Ace was to educate and throw out a different way of looking at things.
          Hopefully one of these days years, everything will be settled once and for all.

          • McGov

            Well said. I agree that ACE provides a benefit to the horse that is humane. We box nervous horses in for the most part…the least we could do is help calm their anxiousness. I also think in some cases it is much safer for everyone. Some very good points you made..thanks for taking the time to make them.

          • Stuart H.

            ACE does have side effects, similar to it’s human medical counterpart which is used for nausea and to help with breathing and to relax. Not every horse is going to react to ACE the same. People have reported paranoia, dizziness and feeling drunk on Phenergan (similar to ACE). Clearly, this horse ran much better off the stuff (tested clean at CD in his romp) than he did on it. You cannot just make a blanket statement that ACE will benefit every horse that is nervous or needs to focus.

            The devil is in the details…now whether Omar stiffed the horse or not is another story. In some of his he appears to be hanging on for dear life and has had a stroke and health issues. He does seem to have a tight hold on the reins of M and never really let the horse run.

            Or maybe Victor up was just worth about 20 lengths at CD? There is a reason any performance enhancing or impairing drug is banned on race day. Lasix is apples to oranges because it is treating a medical condition, not some armchair vet’s opinion that a horse is high strung and needs to focus.

        • Convene


      • Hopefieldstables

        I am not going to “flame on” because I have too much respect for your contributions to date.

        Respectfully, I disagree.

        How about we adapt the sport to the horse rather than (pharmacologically) adapting the horse to the sport.

    • bob

      Avila not that smart…………………………….

    • Sue M. Chapman

      Were you expecting an honest answer from Doc Harthill?

    • Flag Is Up

      Smartest vet I ever knew told me that 1/4cc of Ace would stop the worst bleeder. I began working all my bleeders on Ace from that day forward and only used Laisx on race day. Using the Ace for a workout 5 days before the race cleared the system and never got a bad test and the horses didn’t suffer the dehydration on work day.

    • hammer

      he speaks very highly of you too….

  • bobjonestwo

    Wow, drugging horses, stiffing horses, no effort rides, I’m afraid next I might find out that horse racing isn’t as pure as the driven snow. What’s next, telling me politicians lie and steal?

    • bob

      Politicians lie and steal ? Shocking !

  • Mimi Hunter

    This is one instance where a national governing body would come in real handy. Short of a federal charge for going across state lines for illegal gain, I don’t see where either California or Kentucky can do much of anything about the entire scenario, except maybe odds manipulation. I agree with a lot of the people here that think a lifetime ban from racing is an appropriate penalty.

  • Matt D.

    Is the A.C. short for another coup or Ace conditioner?

  • allikatcdn

    Quite a carnivorous group here! One thing you guys might find interesting is that, Ace -in very low doses- is actually performance enhancing (ask Dr Tobin, his research bore that out). Also, Ace is widely used for: 1 fractious misbehavors; 2 horses that frequently tie up(excessive, acute & debilitating muscle cramping); 3 to reduce the incidence of bleeding outside the plura; 4 when clipping & / or shipping. Further, if given daily -in very low doses to combat particularily 1 and /or 2, it is a medication that ‘stacks’ in the horses system resulting in ‘positive tests’ even when none was administered in the perscribed withdrawl window. It may be administered by: 1 pill (somewhat unreliable results, administered by groom or assistant); 2 IV dose by the attending vet (most reliable, immediate response & requiring the smallest amount); 3 IM dose for a slower onset of effect (administered by attending vet); 4 oral dose of liquid ace suspension (this generally requires a higher dosage but is done by groom / assistant). If there was alot ‘on board’ in the first race, then no jock in his right mind is going to ‘ask’ the horse to run – it feels like your horse has 6 legs & no co-ordination. Until the FULL TESTING RESULTS (the Mass Spectometry levels which are so precise they can detect with considered certainty the time of administration) are released, EVERYTHING here is pure speculation & those ravenous executioners salavating for blood would be better served in voicing the need for transparency & education & presentation of ALL the facts, rather than feasting on bits & scraps to satiate your palates.

    • harry

      Thanks for the information , A.C.

  • harry

    So could all the people who bet on this horse in the March 15 race get together and file a class action suit against the trainer, jockey and track? Where do RICO laws come into play here? There was interstate wagering, could federal racketeering charges be filed?

  • harry

    This trainer had 14 violations from 05-13, 14! How did Ky. even license him? All but 2 were drug related if the ARCI information is correct.

  • harry

    When a horse tests positive for ANY drug that is over the legal limit or not allowed at all, rule the horse off for a year! Call the horse unfit to preform and see how fast some of the bullcrap stops! Owners and trainers are not going to want to deal with the expense and at least that way they can’t just play musical trainers by transferring horses from one cheat to the next!

  • Laura

    I think they’re going after the little guy. I have seen so many trainers do that and the colt was making his second start only. I feel bad that people are jumping into conclusions and even calling AC Avila names. He’s a hard working trainer with little chances and when he gets a good horse he needs to be investigated. All right, so if he’s done anything wrong, it’s only fair to investigate all other trainers as well, including the BBig ones and their tyhroid-fueled horses. No one ever questions when these horses win after a poor first start. But they do with a modest trainer. Smells prejudice to me.

    • harry

      how many of them have you seen test positive for ace? Don’t defend the actions that hurt our industry!

  • An obvious stiff job from watching the replay on the 3/15 race. After strangling the horse half the race, Berrio then gives 2-3 phantom taps to the hind to make it look like he is encouraging the horse, which he isn’t. They need to throw the ‘book’ at the trainer and jockey.

  • Charles Smith

    A.C. Avila, glossed ” the witch doctor” by Kurt Hoover of HRTV, won another race at SA today….the trainer who tranquilized and stiffed Masochistic before shipping him to CD to land a huge bet 6 weeks later. How impotent is the CHRB? They should refer cases like Avila’s and Berrio’s to the local and/or federal authorities for possible race fixing charges.

  • betterthannothing

    From the DRF, May 12, 2012:

    “Jockey Omar Berrio was hospitalized on Friday after suffering a stroke that left him with some paralysis on the right side of his body, according to trainer A.C. Avila.

    Avila employs Berrio as an exercise rider at Santa Anita and said the 43-year-old rider had suffered some damage to his speech. The extent of the injuries was being determined on Saturday, he said.

    “We don’t know yet,” he said. “They’re doing scans.”

    Berrio was aboard a horse at Santa Anita on Friday morning when he began to experience cramp-like symptoms, Avila said. The jockey requested medication attention from ambulance staff.

    “They called the ambulance and took him to the hospital,” Avila said. “He said, ‘I don’t feel good.’ He got off the horse. “According to his friend, he wasn’t taking his medication for high blood pressure.”

    Friday’s stroke was the second that Berrio has suffered in the last 16 months. In December 2010, Berrio suffered a stroke that left him sidelined for a month.

    A native of Panama, Berrio has ridden sporadically this year, winning with 1 of 14 mounts, an allowance race at Santa Anita aboard the stakes winner Great Warrior in April. At the current Betfair Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, Berrio is winless with three mounts.”

    • betterthannothing

      Two interesting comments following the above article:

      “I wish Omar Berrio all my best. Yes, in my leanest years of
      80’s, I could not wait for Bobby Frankel to use him on all his longshots,
      especially in the stakes races. Every time he won for Frankel it seemed like
      easy pickens, just a hand ride, and the tote board would light up with huge

      “Don’t Know Omar Berrio, but I do know he’s a good
      rider………………a money rider ………….especially for Avila. Cashed
      a lot of longshot bets over the years with that”

  • Dintaria

    What happened to all the horses the fell in the Masochistic race at Churchill Downs? (The ones ridden by James Graham, Marcelino Pedroza and Megan Fadlovich.)

    • santacruzchuck

      Simply put, they were run off their feet.

  • John McEvoy

    Racing’s Hall of Fame is full of trainers who “gave” their first-timers a race, then bet them. Check the low win percentages with first-time starters of many of today’s leading horsemen. And those blazing, publicized workouts certainly were a tipoff, plus the change to Espinoza.

  • santacruzchuck

    A great (ok maybe good) article written by Dick Jerardi was on the Paulick Report Nov. 22, 2012. Bottom line is that “deception” is rampant in all gambling endeavors. What I find most fun is uncovering the coup before it happens as opposed to crying about it afterword because I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out before hand.

  • pr mofo

    I have a dream too Avila: That trainers like you are expelled from our sport.

  • Steve

    Ray, please keep us informed about this investigation. Avila shipped to Churchill because he knew that he could bet more money and get better odds betting into the big pools on Derby Day.

  • Hamish

    Apparently the KY Horse Racing Commission, based on today’s meeting, is taking a real close look at this situation. As it should.

  • Michael Castellano

    This is done all the time in New York. Horses are routinely made not to try in their first race, and show vast improvements in their second race. That’s why in maiden races you always have to watch the board to see if someone is doing this. The interesting thing about Derby day is the huge handle, which can help to cover the fact that a horse is being bet. This seems like a case where the stable bet a ton of money for a pretty short price. They likely knew this horse was a runner and Derby day handle a good cover for their bet. Although getting 2 -1 in any race with any horse ain’t much unless the bets are really large. And they believe there is little chance of losing. So they may have also juiced the horse. Who knows, but I can see why they are investigating.

  • Lisa Johnson

    more from SA Stewards minutes:
    05/04/142 ARAUJO HEARING – CASE 14SA097 The CHRB filed against Veterinarian JOHN ARAUJO for a possible violation of CHRB rule 1864 (Labeling of Medication). Present before the BOS were CHRB, Investigator PHILLIP MIYAZAKI and Respondent Dr. Araujo. This case involved the mislabeling of medication dispensed to trainer A. C. AVILA and was discovered during a barn search after one of Mr. Avila’s runners (MASOCHISTIC) had a drug positive (Acepromazine). Dr. Araujo’s prescribed containers had his label on them, but according to CHRB rule 1864, it is required that the name of the horse or the purpose of the medication, and the name of the person dispensed to, be written on the label; he failed to comply with these requirements. The CHRB recommended a warning be issued and the BOS agreed. He was informed a repeat of this violation would result in a stronger penalty. He stated he understood. Dr. Araujo’s licensee record was a mitigating circumstance.
    ASOCHISTIC) had a drug positive (Acepromazine). Dr. Araujo’s prescribed containers had his label on them, but according to CHRB rule 1864, it is required that the name of the horse or the purpose of the medication, and the name of the person dispensed to, be written on the label; he failed to comply with these requirements. The CHRB recommended a warning be issued and the BOS agreed. He was informed a repeat of this violation would result in a stronger penalty. He stated he understood. Dr. Araujo’s licensee record was a mitigating circumstance.

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