By Eric Mitchell
Finding a way to toughen sanctions against trainers who repeatedly break drug-use rules is one of the most important aspects of the National Uniform Medication program.
Unfortunately, adoption of the multiple medication violation reform program, which is part of the unification effort, seems to be moving much more slowly than adoption of the therapeutic medication rules. As of Feb. 23 the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium showed nine racing states had not taken any substantive action toward adopting the MMV program. Nine states had adopted the tougher violation rules, and 12 are making progress toward adoption.
By comparison, only two states have not reported any progress toward adopting the medication rules—Michigan and Oklahoma. Nine states have adopted the restrictions and thresholds for 26 approved therapeutic medications, and 13 states are making progress toward adoption. Several states have adopted some version of the program; California has approved rules for 25 of the 26 medications while New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia have approved rules on 24 of the 26 medications, according to the RMTC.
The recent steroid positives in Maryland are a reminder of why the MMV program is so important. Without it, trainers who race in multiple states continue to skate relatively unscathed past fines that are only a fraction of what they earn in purses and past suspensions that are dictated on the trainers’ terms.
Trainer Scott Lake, one of four trainers who have been suspended and/or fined for having horses test positive for stanozolol, is a prime example of why this program is so important and how much of a patchwork exists without the MMV rules.
In 2006 Lake had five positives for the bronchodilator clenbuterol between April 12 and Aug. 10. The trainer was fined $2,000 and suspended 30 days following his first positive at Aqueduct. Though he was suspended in New York, a second clenbuterol positive April 30 at Delaware Park resulted in a $500 fine and a seven-day suspension. The third positive May 1 at Parx Racing (then Philadelphia Park) brought a $3,000 fine and no suspension. Back at Delaware Park, Lake received a $1,000 fine and a 30-day suspension for the fourth positive. For Lake’s fifth clenbuterol positive Aug. 10 at Penn National, he was fined $1,000 and suspended for 15 days. A Lake trainee came up with a phenylbutazone positive Nov. 2 at Laurel Park—a dozen weeks following his fifth clenbuterol positive—and the Maryland Racing Commission ruling noted the bute positive was his first offense in a 365-day period. Lake was fined $500.
Under the MMV program Lake could have been given four points for each positive and quickly faced a one-year suspension. The MMV penalty points range from half a point to six, depending on the class of the drug and whether it is a controlled therapeutic or non-controlled substance.
Earlier this month Lake had been sanctioned for two stanozolol positives in December at Laurel, but because the second positive occurred prior to the delivery of the official notice by the lab of its finding for the first test, they were treated as one. Both horses were disqualified and Lake was suspended 60 days, fined $1,000, and given four points under the MMV policy. He was given 60 days because he’d had another stanozolol positive in June at Penn National, and he was given four points for this offense because stanozolol (formerly sold under the name Winstrol) is only available from compounding pharmacies. Prior to the Laurel positive Lake already had four points against him for a boldenone positive he received Jan. 26 at Parx and for which at the time he had only been fined $500. Because he illegally used this anabolic steroid also known as Equipoise means he now faces a suspension of 120 days.
While Lake and trainer A. Ferris Allen are appealing their stanozolol sanctions, for the first time in 10 years Lake is facing penalties that might sting. Racing commissions have sanctioned Lake at least 88 times between 2005 and 2013 for infractions ranging from drug positives to failing to have the proper paperwork on file with the racing office. During this period Lake was fined nearly $27,000 while his stable earned more than $58.5 million in purses.
Behavior won’t change until horsemen can no longer escape strong penalties by crossing a state line. All racing states must make the MMV program a priority to curb the temptations to cheat and cull the cheaters who habitually refuse to follow the rules.