Three of the six Tampa Bay Downs medication violations cited in an Oct. 4 Consent Order against Jorge Navarro – recently crowned leading trainer at New Jersey's Monmouth Park – were for overages of the anti-inflammatory drug flunixin at levels 200 times or more the allowed threshold. Scientific research suggests a typical dose of the analgesic medication, which is sold under the brand name Banamine, would have to be given within a few hours of a race to test at such an extreme level. Flunixin is not permitted on race-day.
Navarro received a 60-day suspension from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, effective Oct. 7, the day after the Monmouth Park meeting ended. Tampa Bay Downs has since said it will not provide stables to or accept entries from Navarro during the entirety of its 2013-14 race meeting.
Details of the horses, dates and test levels were not included in the Consent Order signed by Navarro and Leon Biegalski, director of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, the state's regulatory body. Response by the DPMW's communications staff to a public records request from the Paulick Report shows that the six overages occurred between Jan. 4-Feb. 8, 2012.
Navarro was notified the day a complaint was filed, on Feb. 16, 2012 – meaning all six overages occurred prior to him finding out about the first one. A search of Navarro's barn, conducted that same day by a DPMW investigator and a Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau agent, uncovered three un-prescribed medications: Doxycycline Hyclate and Metronidazole tablets (both antibiotics) and Methocarbamol tablets (muscle relaxant).
Three of the liquid chromatography mass spectrometry tests conducted at the University of Florida laboratory detected levels between 26 and 38 nanograms per milliliter – less than twice the legal threshold of 20 nanograms per milliliter of blood. A drug-testing expert told the Paulick Report those levels typically would indicate a higher than normal dose administered approximately 24 hours before a race or use of a flunixin paste product, which has a longer withdrawal time than intravenous administration.
Bradford Beilly, an attorney for Navarro, told Daily Racing Form his client was using a “compound paste” that was “not going through the (horses') systems fast enough.”
While use of a flunixin paste 24 hours out might explain the aforementioned minor overages, three other test samples – including two on the same horse – were extremely high, measuring between four and six micrograms per milliliter of blood. A microgram is equal to 1,000 nanograms. Four micrograms (4,000 nanograms) would be 200 times higher than the permitted level.
Woodruff Ridge, owned by Julian DeMora, won a $5,000 claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs by 1 1/4 lengths on Jan. 27, 2012, then tested at four micrograms of flunixin per milliliter. Twelve days later, Woodruff Ridge won at the same level by 2 1/4 lengths and again tested at four micrograms per milliliter.
Woodruff Ridge has had one race since then, finishing last in a $5,000 claimer on March 2, 2012.
Wildcat Formation also tested over the limit on two occasions. The first overage occurred after a 1 1/4-length win Jan. 4, 2012, in a $5,000 claiming race, when the Florida lab detected 31 nanograms of flunixin per milliliter. On Feb. 2, 2012, when he finished second for $5,000 claiming, Wildcat Formation was found to have six micrograms of the painkiller per milliliter – 300 times over the 20 nanogram threshold permitted.
Wildcat Formation was claimed from owner Blue Top Holdings Stable out of that Feb. 2 race by William and Marty Johnson and trainer Barbara McBride. After eight starts in Navarro's barn, where he won three races and had two seconds and two thirds, Wildcat Formation failed to hit the board in his next four starts, the most recent of which was on Feb. 21, 2013.
Navarro's other two flunixin positives were with Charles Justi's Alkazabito, second-place finisher on Jan. 15, 2012 (38 nanograms/milliliter) and Julian DeMora's Bobbiesqueen, Feb. 5, 2012, winner (26 nanograms/milliliter).
Flunixin is a Class 4 drug under Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines, the least severe class of medications. Penalties for the lowest overages (20-100 nanograms) call for a warning and $500 fine for a first offense, but higher penalties for levels above 100 nanograms, including higher fines and suspensions.
Testing for flunixin by the Florida lab, according to sources, was flawed and unreliable until a change was made from urine screening via thin layer chromatography to liquid chromatography mass spectrometry testing of blood. The change is believed to have occurred sometime in 2011. Until then, trainers would have been able to administer flunixin on race-day and escape detection, an illegal practice sources said was occurring in some stables.
Navarro failed to respond to phone or text messages on his cell phone. Bradford Beilly, his attorney, also did not respond to emailed questions about the matter. Peter Berube, general manager of Tampa Bay Downs, declined to comment beyond saying it was a “business decision” to bar Navarro for the upcoming meeting.
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