By: Matt Hegarty

Judd Kearl, one of the leading trainers in Quarter Horse racing, has been suspended for 19 years by the Texas Racing Commission due to multiple positives for a banned antidepressant that has not been available commercially for nearly 30 years.

The 19-year ban was the cumulative result of five separate rulings dealing with positives of the drug nomifensine in five horses trained by Kearl that raced over a one-month period at Sam Houston Race Park and Retama Park in May and June. Kearl, who was second in wins in Quarter Horse racing at the time he was summarily suspended for the positives in July, was also fined a total of $110,000.

Kearl was one of three Quarter Horse trainers summarily suspended for nomifensine positives this summer in Texas. The others, Jose Sanchez and Brian Stroud, were also issued lengthy suspensions on Thursday, with Sanchez receiving a four-year ban for two positives and Stroud a one-year ban for one positive.

The penalties were handed down after a three-day hearing in late September, according to rulings provided by the racing commission. All three trainers appeared at the hearing to argue that a veterinarian, Justin Robinson, was responsible for administering the drug to all of the horses that tested positive. Attorneys for the trainers also attempted to cast doubt on the chain of custody of the horses’ post-race samples, according to the rulings, a common tactic in cases involving positives for Class 1 drugs.

However, the racing commission rejected the argument that the trainers should not be held responsible for the positives even if Robinson had administered the drugs without their knowledge, citing the absolute insurer rule.

“If a trainer is not diligent in overseeing what substances are administered to horses in his or her care, it is the trainer that is remiss in fulfilling their obligations,” the commissioners wrote in the rulings.

Given the length of the penalties, the trainers are likely to appeal the rulings in civil court.

Nomifensine is an anti-depressant that has not been commercially available since the late 1980s, and the FDA revoked its status as an approved drug in 1992. The eight positives in Texas this summer were the first positives for the drug in any racing jurisdiction.

Although nomifensine is not specifically classified as a Class 1 substance, any drug that is capable of impacting a horse’s performance and that is not recognized for any therapeutic effect on a horse is by default a Class 1 prohibited drug.