The following statement was released on Twitter Tuesday by Elizabeth Talamo, wife of jockey Joe Talamo and daughter of trainer Ron Ellis. Ellis was recently suspended 60 days by the California Horse Racing Board, after 2016 Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Masochistic – a horse in his care – returned a positive test for the steroid Stanozolol. Read more about the decision here.
I have remained quiet about my father's suspension for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, my husband is in the industry so I am very conscientious of what I post. Secondly, most of my friends do not follow horse racing so I try to only share material that promotes the sport. I hate to bring this to people's attention – especially people who would not have read about it elsewhere. Lastly, I assume many people will dismiss my words as a daughter defending her father. Unfortunately for my dad, I am most critical of those closest to me. I am the first to point out his flaws and mistakes. This is not one of them.
More than a year ago, my dad finished second in the Breeders' Cup Sprint with Masochistic. Shortly after, he was informed tiny amounts of stanozolol – a legal steroid – were found in the horse's system. The test results show the drug measured in picograms. A picogram is one-trillionth of a gram.
Stanozolol can be given legally to horses in California with the recommended withdrawal time of 60 days. My dad's horse was given the steroid 68 days before the Breeders' Cup. He used the steroid to help Masochistic maintain weight during training. It wasn't hidden. It was fully disclosed to the state veterinarian.
During those 68 days, state veterinarians performed three pre-race tests. Each test showed a drop in the drug level. These tests also showed Masochistic was metabolizing the steroid at a slower than average rate. My dad, however, was not informed of this information until three days before the Breeders' Cup. He tried to run another test on him but couldn't find a lab able to test to such low levels in time. After all, we are talking about picograms here.
These test results were also seen by the racing officials. The California Horse Racing Board did not order him to scratch his horse from the race. At that time, my dad was told there was a small chance Masochistic would test positive. Since the final test was taken eight days out, my dad decided to run Masochistic in the Breeders' Cup. Keep in mind that the Breeders' Cup, like the Kentucky Derby, is something a trainer plans his or her entire year around.
I find it most interesting that the racing officials have deemed my father's actions as “extremely aggravating.” They had the exact same information in front of them, so why did they allow Masochistic to run? If it was such a risk, why didn't they protect the gambling public – the foundation of our sport? Racing officials have since changed the rule and taken steps toward preventing this kind of mistake in the future. Now, a horse that is given stanozolol cannot race until he has a clean test. Making those changes to better the sport was most necessary – not a historic suspension.
In recent years, trainers in California with similar (or more aggressive) violations have been suspended a maximum of 45 days. Most however, served far, far less. In a previous Breeders' Cup incident at Santa Anita, racing officials suspended one trainer for 10 days after his horse tested positive for a Class 3 drug. The medication my dad used is also considered to be a Class 3.
After Masochistic tested positive, my dad released the following statement: “I apologize to the Breeders' Cup and the racing industry for this unfortunate event. I understand and respect the ramifications of CHRB regulations, and trust I will be treated fairly under the circumstances.” He tried to offer a settlement proposal early in the process, but was told that the CHRB was not interested in negotiating because of the significance of the race.
On December 17, it was announced that my dad would be given the maximum for this type of offense: a 60-day suspension and $10,000 fine. Futhermore, he must forfeit all assigned stall space and removed all signage, training-related equipment, and any other property during his suspension. He is not allowed at the racetrack, cannot transfer any horses to anyone who has been an employee of his during the previous year, and the 15 innocent people he employs will be without a job.
My dad and his attorney proposed that the suspension be cut to 59 days, in exchange for 12 months probation. The one-day drop would have prevented my dad from having to disband his entire stable and employees. It was denied with the following statement: “Mr. Ellis could have proposed a settlement to the CHRB's deputy attorney general and/or executive director at any point in time leading up to the board's consideration of the proposed decision earlier this month. He did not do so.” This – as I mentioned above – is not the truth. When asked for a response to that claim, the board denied to comment.
Sadly, there are some bad guys in racing – but I can wholeheartedly say, he is not one of them. In his thirty-five plus years of training, he has a near-perfect record. Even a former assistant posted, “I worked with Ellis for four years and I can't emphasize enough how conservative we were with medication. When you're testing to those low levels on legal meds you're getting carried away.”
Ironically, Masochistic was given to my dad after the horse tested positive under a different trainer's care. The horse was part of a scam story when he was “doped” in one race, then came back to win by 14-lengths in his consecutive race. Lab test showed Masochistic was “loaded” with acepromazine in the original race. That trainer, by the way, was penalized the same amount of time and money as my dad.
I remember my dad working around the clock to help this horse – both physically and mentally – when he arrived at his barn. His jockey at the time pulled me aside in passing to make sure I knew how much the horse had improved because of my dad's dedication. He would personally mix brown sugar into his feed tub to entice him to eat. Not surprising though, considering I've seen him offer bottled water instead of tap water to a horse. When I teased him about this, he responded, “I don't like tap water – so maybe he doesn't either.”
This type of attention and love is the norm. I often joke that in my next life, I want to come back as one of my dad's horses. I spent my childhood witnessing his commitment. We would often go to the barn after dinner to check on his horses. I remember him adjusting their fans or blankets – even if they were the slightest bit crooked. There were times he'd wake up at 2 AM to follow a horse van to the airport “just to make sure nothing happened.” I don't even want to think about the time I have spent watching him put on bandages.
My dad is known as a “conservative” trainer who does not run his horses until they are their absolute best. He is a fierce advocate for the horse – so much so, that he has lost business because of it. Simply put, this is not the type of person who cheats. Those in the industry already know my father is a true horseman – and I am saddened by the board's final decision.
Thank you for taking the time to read this long and uncharacteristic post. It has been heartbreaking for me to watch my dad go through this. Aside from financial stress, it has been an attack on two things he values the absolute most – his love of the horse and his respect for the game. I can only hope something good comes out of it for him. When you bring down one of the good guys though, you bring down the entire sport. You bring down the people like me – the fans.
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