After Spike In Violations, Florida HBPA Seeking ‘Fix’ Of New Medication Rules: Paulick Report 6/22/16

By: Ray Paulick

Twenty-one of the 50 trainers with the most starts at the 2015-16 Gulfstream Park championship meeting were served with administrative complaints for medication violations since new regulations went into effect in January.

The new regulations for therapeutic medications, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in June 2015, follow the drug schedule, threshold levels and withdrawal guidelines that are part of the National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP). The NUMP, which has been adopted in part by at least 20 states, was developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and recommended as a model rule by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

Florida legislators did not adopt the Multiple Medication Violation Penalty System that is part of the program. The new law also does not recognize evolving changes to threshold levels or withdrawal guidelines as recommended by RMTC and ARCI.

Based on research by the Paulick Report using Equibase.com and MyFloridaLicense.com, the 21 trainers have been charged with a total of 47 medication violations – including one Class 2, seven Class 3 and 39 Class 4 – during the 2016 portion of the meeting that began Dec. 5 and ended April 3. Those 21 trainers were responsible for 1,925 starts, so the 47 administrative complaints represent 2.4 percent of their total starts or 1.1 percent of the 4,141 starts from the 50 trainers with the highest number of starts during the meeting. According to several industry organizations, 99.5 percent of horses tested nationally are in compliance with medication regulations, so the alleged Gulfstream Park violations have come at a rate twice the national average.

One trainer, Oscar Gonzalez, was notified of nine alleged Class 4 violations from 69 starts. William Kaplan, who at the end of the Gulfstream Park meeting announced his retirement, was served with seven administrative complaints for Class 4 violations from 64 starts. Martin Wolfson received five administrative complaints for Class 4 violations from 50 starts.

Multiple Eclipse Award winner and Gulfstream’s leading trainer Todd Pletcher, whose 253 starts and 62 wins were the most of any trainer during the championship meeting, received one administrative complaint for a Class 3 violation and three for Class 4. Marcus Vitali received three complaints for Class 4 violations from 148 starts, and Kathleen O’Connell (72 starts) and Aubrey Maragh (54 starts) received two each.

The MyFloridaLicense.com website used to research the administrative complaints does not provide details other than the class of drug.

Glen Berman, executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said many of the violations were either for overages of “stacked” non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (if using more than one, the threshold levels were significantly lower than prior regulations) or for xylazine. The latter, a sedative/analgesic medication, had its recommended threshold level increased by RMTC and ARCI from 10 picograms/milliliter of plasma or serum to 200 pg/ml after Florida legislators passed the new law. The law does not recognize changes in RMTC recommendations. Florida has no racing commission but pari-mutuel licensees are regulated by the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, a section of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

“We have spoken to the division about the application and implementation of the law,” said Berman. “Anything we are unable to work out with the division we would have to address statutorily. So we hope to fix what we see as inconsistencies of unintended outcomes of the law as drafted currently, such as having the ARCI threshold medication schedule changed in the law as the ARCI puts out new versions. We also would like them to adopt the ARCI penalty schedule.”

Berman said the administrative complaints bypass track stewards, who in most states would conduct a hearing with the trainer to determine any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

“There are no stewards involved,” he said. “The options are: take the offer sent to you by the state or to dispute it – either disputing the allegations and requesting a split sample or raise mitigating circumstances.”

While some of the cases have been closed, the majority of the administrative complaints remain unresolved.