Here we go again.
Trainer Ingrid Mason has been suspended for one year and fined $2,500 by stewards at Arlington Park after Nuclear Option, winner of the first race on Aug. 23, tested positive for d-methamphetamine and amphetamine.
Mason was suspended without having the benefit of a confirmatory split sample or being notified of the level at which the drug was detected by the Illinois Racing Board's official laboratory at the University of Illinois.
Mason is appealing the suspension – which then gives her the right to have a split sample tested – and she received a stay, allowing her to continue to train while the case is heard.
Mason contends, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt her, that this drug positive is a result of contamination. She's tested Nuclear Option's groom (the test was negative) but knows that contamination can happen in any number of ways.
Veteran trainer Frank Kirby received a similar one-year suspension for a November 2016 methamphetamine positive from the Illinois Racing Board. Mason said Kirby's suspension was reduced to 15 days upon appeal.
There have been numerous cases across the country of human drugs finding their way into a horse's system. Stewards or hearing officers often conclude that the positive tests were a result of contamination. Trainers in some cases received no sanctions, though almost always the horse owner is penalized through a disqualification and loss of purse. Small fortunes are spent by owners and trainers on attorneys fees.
Some states and their laboratories, wisely in my opinion, have set the testing thresholds high enough on certain drugs to eliminate findings at levels so minuscule that there is no possibility of the drug enhancing a horse's performance. Other states, including Illinois, follow a zero tolerance policy: if the lab detects the drug at any level, it is considered a positive and prosecuted.
The latter policy only helps the labs show off the sensitivity of their testing equipment. It does nothing for horse racing, except give it an unnecessary black eye.
This case against Ingrid Mason demonstrates yet another reason trainers should support federal legislation, the Horseracing Integrity Act, that would put all medication policies in American racing under one agency affiliated with the United States Anti-Doping Agency. The current system is broken. Depending on where you race, it is inconsistent, incompetent or unfair. Unfortunately, too many trainers subscribe to the theory that better the devil you know than the devil you don't.
That's my view from the eighth pole.
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