Trainers Jorge Navarro and Joe Sharp recently were fined but not suspended after horses in their care tested positive for Class 1 drugs at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, suggesting stewards were convinced the presence of the substances was due to contamination of drugs widely abused by humans..
Navarro was fined $2,500 after George Cross tested positive for cocaine, morphine and benzoylecgonine – the latter a metabolite of cocaine – following the horse's victory in the fifth race at Monmouth Park June 17.
Sharp was fined $1,500 after Phat Man, winner of the Long Branch Stakes on July 8, tested positive for methamphetamine.
Both rulings were dated Oct. 18.
In both cases, stewards ruled the fines were “based on the levels of the foreign substance and other investigative evidence obtained by the New Jersey Racing Commission, which includes mitigating circumstances.”
Under guidelines established by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Class 1 drug violations call for a minimum one-year suspension and $10,000 fine – absent any mitigating circumstances. Attorneys for both men claim the positive tests were the result of contamination.
Neither trainer is assigned any points in the Multiple Medication Violations penalty system, according to Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission. There are no threshold levels in New Jersey for the drugs found in this case, Zanzuccki said, meaning even the smallest amount – the “level of detection” – could trigger a positive finding. Truesdail Laboratories of Irvine, Calif., contracts with the New Jersey Racing Commission for drug testing.
Navarro was leading trainer at Monmouth Park for the fifth consecutive year in 2017, winning with 65 of 158 starts. Sharp ran two horses at Monmouth Park this year, winning the Long Branch with Phat Man and the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational with Girvin.
Zanzuccki said employees of Navarro and Sharp were drug-tested, as were racing commission employees involved in the chain of custody of the post-race samples, including the test barn at Monmouth Park. Clark Brewster, attorney for Sharp, said employees in the barn where Phat Man shipped in to race were tested. Zanzuccki said he could not disclose whether any stable or commission staff tested positive for illegal drugs, nor could he discuss the mitigating circumstances.
Bradford Beilly, attorney for Navarro, said he presented evidence at an Oct. 17 hearing from University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center professor Thomas Tobin – and Albert Kind – lead racing chemist at Texas A&M University's Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory – demonstrating that cocaine and morphine were introduced into the urine sample of George Cross and could not have been in the horse's system. The key, Beilly said, was that the unmetabolized parent drugs were detected. Beilly said neither the drugs nor their metabolites were detected in blood samples taken at the same time as the urine collection.
Brewster said Dr. Clara Fenger testified as an expert witness at an Oct. 3 hearing on behalf of Sharp. He said Fenger spoke with “absolute certainty” that the level of methamphetamine detected – the attorney said it was less than 30 picograms – would have no effect on the horse's performance.
“During the hearing,” Brewster said, “I asked the stewards if there is any evidence whatsoever that this is anything other than contamination. They conceded ‘no.' Any kind of street drug will show as a positive. Some jurisdictions are putting in thresholds for these drugs to avoid contaminant cases like this. But long story short, because of the absolute insurer rule, you have this situation where the trainers are in the cross-hairs of low-level contaminants.”
Brewster said the stewards ruling against Sharp – which includes loss of a $60,000 purse – will be appealed to the racing commission. “We want this to be litigated,” Brewster said. “It's even more compelling than the Graham Motion case (where a judge said Kentucky's absolute insurer rule was unconstitutional). We aren't talking about any kind of cheating or anything that would affect the horse's performance.”
Beilly has appealed the Navarro ruling and said on Friday afternoon the New Jersey Racing Commission has issued a stay. An administrative law judge will hear the case, Beilly said, “where the burden is on the New Jersey Racing Commission to prove the violation.”
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