Veterinarian Brian Van Arem and Woodbine's leading trainer, Norman McKnight, were sanctioned earlier this year by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for violating rules that prohibit extracorporeal shock wave therapy within 96 hours of a race. Van Arem was fined $7,500 Sept. 18 and McKnight was hit with a $5,000 fine Oct. 5. Neither was suspended, though both had probationary conditions put on their license for a year beginning in early October.
The Woodbine Entertainment Group that conducts racing at the Toronto track doesn't think the penalty against Van Arem is enough. The company has filed an appeal with Ontario's Horse Racing Appeal Panel asking – according to Daily Racing Form – for the veterinarian to be suspended six months from the Sept. 18 ruling date or 90 days from April 20, 2019, when Woodbine kicks off its annual race meeting.
Woodbine did not file an appeal seeking a stiffer penalty for McKnight.
Extracorporeal shock wave therapy is a relatively new technology, a non-invasive treatment used to stimulate healing of horses with soft-tissue or bone injuries or lameness. But, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the therapy also has an analgesic affect that can last up to four days.
Woodbine was conducting surveillance on McKnight's barn when it was discovered that two horses entered to race on the Aug. 1 program – Brighter Ideas and Laelia – had received shock wave therapy two days earlier on July 30. After stewards were notified of the situation, both horses were scratched.
When Van Arem and McKnight were called in to meet with the stewards and notified that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario would conduct an investigation into the allegations, the veterinarian and trainer volunteered that a third horse, Constantino, entered to race Aug. 3, also received shock wave therapy in the same time frame. Constantino was scratched as well.
Stewards hearings for both men were conducted – Var Arem's on Sept. 12 and McKnight's on Oct. 3.
According to the stewards ruling, Van Arem stated his belief that shock-waving a horse pre-race “is therapeutic and less evasive than other pre-race treatments.” He also contended that the applicable 96-hour rule was only a guideline, similar to medication withdrawal times.
Stewards, however, ruled that extracorporeal shock wave therapy is not a “pre-race treatment” but a “therapy that is ongoing to help relieve some of the ailments horses acquire through training and racing and the cut-off time is 96 hours as stipulated in the rule.”
They cited the Association of Racing Commissioners International's model rule suggesting shockwave therapy should be stopped 10 days before racing.
“The stewards are tasked with a situation that has no previous set precedence,” they wrote in the ruling. “The administration of the shock wave treatments inside of the recommended time could be constructed to potentially gain an advantage in racing. The analgesic effects could be masking issues associated with lameness and in doing so jeopardizes equine and human safety in the sport, this is considered to be not in the best interests of racing.”
In McKnight's hearing, according to the ruling, the trainer's “contention was that it is the responsibility of the veterinarian to know what the rules are and any consultation regarding treatments is left to the veterinarian.”
Stewards reminded McKnight it is “also the responsibility of the trainer to know the rules and ensure that any drug, medical treatment or therapy provided to a horse in their care intended for racing, are within the rules of racing.”
Woodbine's appeal is scheduled to be heard Dec. 14.
McKnight is Woodbine's leading training, with 108 wins from 322 starts through Nov. 11, a strike rate of 34 percent.
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