By: Ray Paulick
The Maryland Jockey Club has begun accepting entries again from Marcus Vitali after the trainer began the process of reapplying for the Florida license he voluntarily relinquished last month, a move that allowed him to temporarily dodge administrative complaints filed against him for seven alleged medication violations at Gulfstream Park.
Vitali has four horses entered Saturday at Laurel Park, a track owned by The Stronach Group, which earlier in the week said it would not permit Vitali to race there after learning of his status in Florida.
Sal Sinatra, president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, said it is his understanding that Vitali has reapplied for his Florida license, paving the way for the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to pursue the administrative complaints filed against Vitali for seven medication violations: one in October, four in November and two in January. The complaints were dismissed in a ruling that said the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering could not pursue the charges because Vitali was no longer licensed in Florida. However, the ruling stated: “If he is ever to re-apply for licensure in this state the… cases shall be re-opened and he shall be held responsible for the allegations contained in these administrative complaints.”
The Maryland Jockey Club will honor any suspensions that come out of that process, Sinatra said. New, more restrictive medication rules aligned with the National Uniform Medication Program were signed into law last year by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Those rules (explained here by the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association) went into effect in January 2016. Since then, there has been a spike in the number of violations for overages of therapeutic medications. Two of the seven complaints filed against Vitali fall under those new rules.
Using the MyFloridaLicense.com website, a review of 50 trainers with the most starters during the Gulfstream Park championship meet (Dec. 5, 2015-April 3, 2016), showed that 14 trainers have been notified of violations under the new rules. Ten of the 14 trainers were notified of one violation each. There are two administrative complaints against Vitali, three against trainer Martin Wolfson four against William Kaplan and nine against Oscar Gonzalez, bringing the total to 28 administrative complaints for the 50 trainers with the most starters at Gulfstream Park. All but one are for Class 4 drugs, the other being a Class 3 drug.
Because of either a backlog at the University of Florida drug-testing laboratory or in the administrative handling of the results, the violations do not include races run at Gulfstream Park after early March, so the number of medication violations likely will increase. Another byproduct of the delays is that some trainers may have compiled multiple violations before being notified of the first overage.
The five alleged Class 4 violations by Vitali horses in the fall of 2015, for example, occurred within a month of each other: one was on Oct. 25, two were on Nov. 13, one on Nov. 14 and one on Nov. 15. In some racing states, if the violations are for the same medication and the trainer was not notified of the first overage before the subsequent violations occurred, that would be considered a mitigating circumstance in adjudicating the case.
It isn’t known what substances were involved in these cases or when Vitali was notified.
As of May 2, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has a new director. Tony Glover was appointed to the position to replace Jonathan Zachem, who signed the order dismissing the charges against Vitali. Glover, an attorney, previously served as deputy director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco within the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Florida has no racing commission and is regulated by the state bureau based in Tallahassee.