‘The Fugitive’ and Other Trainer Suspension Stories

by | 08.13.2013 | 10:40am

Remember “The Fugitive,” that 1960s TV series later turned into a movie starring Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble, the “innocent victim of blind justice” falsely convicted in the murder of his wife? Kimble escaped while en route to prison's death row, then searched far and wide for a one-armed man he saw leave the scene of the crime. He was eventually found innocent, both on television (the final 1967 episode of the five-year series being the most-watched show ever at the time) and in the movie, after Kimble tracked down the one-armed man and solved the crime.

Iowa racing officials went on a manhunt, too, after Veillit', a daughter of Lit de Justice trained by Chris Richard for prominent horse owner and attorney Maggi Moss, tested positive for the Class 3 drug Acepromazine at Prairie Meadows on June 30, 2012. Veillit' had finished second as the favorite in a $15,000 claiming race, one month after she was claimed by Moss for the same price.

Stewards at the Iowa track suspended Richard 15 days and fined him $500 for the infraction, the lowest on the range of recommended penalties by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. Veillit' was disqualified, and the purse money ordered redistributed. Richard, who recently won his third consecutive training title at Prairie Meadows, told stewards he believed the horse may have been given the drug by a disgruntled groom. The groom had been fired the previous day for missing work and came to the barn that morning to collect his final paycheck.

Richard's barn foreman, Angel Medina, told officials the groom, Mark Hines, argued about the amount of the check and was seen later in the day in the stable area. That night, Medina said he saw Hines leaving the track with another trainer in a horse van headed to Kentucky.

Iowa's Division of Criminal Investigation, which assigns three agents to Prairie Meadows, attempted to find Hines. They contacted Chris Clark, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's director of enforcement, to see if Hines was working at a Kentucky racetrack. No one was able to hunt him down.

Though Medina did not see Hines in the vicinity of Veillit', Richard's defense was built around the suspicion that Hines was the perpetrator of the drugging. Whether or not stewards believed there was a malicious act by the fired groom, they fined and suspended Richard because Iowa racing regulations assign responsibility to the trainer for the condition of his or her horse.

The regulations state that the trainer is responsible for: “The condition of horses entered in an official workout or race and, in the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary, for the presence of any prohibited drug, medication or other substance, including permitted medication in excess of the maximum allowable level, in such horses, regardless of the acts of third parties.”

Richard appealed, and administrative law judge Jeffrey D. Farrell ruled last Wednesday in a proposed decision to modify the penalty: that the suspension be lifted but the fine doubled, to $1,000.

It was a curious ruling. On the one hand, Farrell wrote in his decision there was not enough “substantial evidence to prove that a third person…administered a prohibited substance to Veillit'.” He concluded, however, that it “must be considered as a mitigating factor to the extent it shows Mr. Richard had no direct responsibility. There is a realistic possibility that Mr. Hines was involved.”

That's a pretty low bar – a “realistic possibility.”

He also said owner Moss, who Farrell wrote in his decision “insists that her horses run drug-free,” was another reason to drop the suspension. “An owner's support of her trainer would ordinarily not be given much weight, but Ms. Moss' support of Mr. Richard could be considered another mitigating factor. Ms Moss is an extremely demanding owner who puts the welfare of her horses above all. She is one of the leading horse owners in the country, and has fired a number of trainers who do not measure up to her standards of care. Ms. Moss convincingly testified that she would not support Mr. Richard if she thought he was involved in the administration of Ace to Veillit'.”

Acepromazine, incidentally, is an easily detected drug that is often used to calm horses before vanning and sometimes used in training to settle a young horse. It is not the kind of drug a trainer would use to get an edge in a race, especially considering how easily it can be detected.

For better or worse, the ruling further dissolves trainer responsibility in medication cases.

Speaking of drug rulings, the California Horse Racing Board, along with suspended trainer Carla Gaines and her lawyer, trainer Darrell Vienna, have made a complete mockery of trainer suspensions.

In response to a request for clarification from Vienna, CHRB attorney Robert Miller said Gaines, recently suspended 30 days for a testosterone violation in two horses, could attend the races as long as she was in “public” areas.

Gaines watched a set of horses from her stable school in the paddock at Del Mar Saturday afternoon and also observed unbeaten Glorious Luck being saddled and winning an allowance race to remain unbeaten in three starts.

The Paulick Report heard from numerous trainers and owners who said previous CHRB suspensions meant licensees were banned from all racetrack grounds and even satellite wagering facilities. Some told stories of seeing suspended licensees being escorted off the grounds by security, and one trainer said stewards threatened to extend a suspension by 30 days if the trainer was seen on racetrack property.

CHRB stewards referred all questions about Gaines' presence to board communications director Mike Marten, who supplied the exchange of letters between Miller and Vienna without comment.

Some are convinced Gaines is getting special treatment because she trains for John Harris, former CHRB chairman and recently elected steward of The Jockey Club. Harris owns one of the horses that tested positive for testosterone.

Suspensions have always been somewhat meaningless because horses are merely turned over to an assistant trainer. Technology (in-barn security cameras, email, cell phone cameras and video) has made it easier than ever for trainers to stay in touch with barn staff during suspensions.

Maybe it's time to do away with suspensions of 30 days or less and simply make the fines stiff enough for the trainer to feel it in his or her bank account.

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