By: Jay Privman
Masochistic will be disqualified from his second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and his trainer, Ron Ellis, faces a potential penalty from the California Horse Racing Board after two separate tests confirmed small amounts of a legal steroid in the horse’s system, Ellis said Monday.
Ellis said he was informed Sunday by the racing board that a split sample taken from Masochistic after the BC Sprint confirmed the original findings of the horse racing board’s primary lab at the University of California at Davis, showing less than 200 picograms – a picogram being one-trillionth of a gram – of the drug in the horse’s blood. The board, in a press notice put out Monday afternoon, confirmed that it has requested a hearing on Dec. 30 at Santa Anita regarding redistribution of the race’s purse, but Ellis said he will not contest the findings. A potential penalty for Ellis will be determined at a later date.
Masochistic finished second to Drefong in the six-furlong race, which had a purse of $1.5 million. Second-place money was worth $255,000, which will be forfeited by owners Will Shamlian and Samantha Siegel. Mind Your Biscuits, who originally finished third, will now be placed second and receive the runner-up share. A. P. Indian will be moved up to third, Limousine Liberal to fourth, Delta Bluesman to fifth, and Noholdingback Bear to sixth. There were seven runners in the race.
According to Ellis, Masochistic tested positive for the steroid stanozolol, which can be given legally to horses in California, with the recommended withdrawal time 60 days prior to a race. Ellis said Masochistic was given the steroid 68 days out, two days after his victory in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 27.
“It was done therapeutically, because he’s a small horse and we’ve had trouble keeping weight on him,” Ellis said Monday. “It wasn’t hidden. It was fully disclosed with the state, as required.
“The amount is very, very small, but it doesn’t matter. Just having a presence is enough.”
When a horse initially tests positive in California, a trainer is allowed to have a split sample sent to a second lab to be confirmed. Only if the second lab confirms the initial test is the horse considered to have tested positive. If the second test does not confirm the original test, the horse is considered clean. Ellis said he was given a choice of eight labs to which he could send out the split sample. He said four of the labs told him they could not do the test because they don’t test down to such small amounts.
“It’s less than a fifth of a nanogram,” Ellis said, referring to the measurement reflecting one-billionth of a gram. “I don’t dispute the science. I dispute testing to these levels on drugs that are legal to use.”
According to Ellis, Masochistic – like all Breeders’ Cup runners – was subject to out-of-competition testing in the weeks leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. He said Masochistic was tested three times, the final test being taken Oct. 28. He said he was not informed until Nov. 2, three days before the race, that Masochistic had traces of stanozolol in those tests.
Neither the CHRB – whose medical director is Dr. Rick Arthur – nor the Breeders’ Cup ordered Ellis to scratch Masochistic. The decision was left to Ellis and Masochistic’s owners.
“I was informed by the equine medical director three days before the race that he was concerned there was a chance of a positive test on race day,” Ellis said. “We tried to run another test on him, but couldn’t find a lab that could test to such low levels in time.
“Since that test had been taken eight days out, and the amount was so small, we were 90 percent confident it would clear his system by the race. But if it gets stuck in the fat cells, it doesn’t move. The dissipation was abnormally slow.”
Ellis, who has been training for more than 35 years, has a near-pristine record when it comes to medication violations. He has never been suspended, and in the last 10 years his only violation was for a high amount of banamine, a legal analgesic.
“I apologize to the Breeders’ Cup and the racing industry for this unfortunate event,” he said. “I understand and respect the ramifications of CHRB regulations, and trust I will be treated fairly under the circumstances.”
Owing to the Masochistic situation, the Sprint was the only one of the 13 Breeders’ Cup races, run Nov. 4 and 5 at Santa Anita, whose purse had yet to be fully disbursed.
Bob Baffert, the trainer of Drefong, said last month that the first-place money had been paid to owner Charles Chu.
Masochistic, a 6-year-old gelding, has had a star-crossed career. He has won eight times in 14 starts, including the Pat O’Brien, the Grade 1 Triple Bend, and the Grade 2 Kona Gold, but he also is notorious for being the subject of an alleged betting coup in May 2014 at Churchill Downs when trained by his former co-owner A.C. Avila. After finishing fifth in his debut at Santa Anita six weeks earlier at 8-1, Masochistic shipped to Churchill Downs, was hammered to 2-1, and romped by 14 lengths against maidens.
Ellis took over as Masochistic’s trainer in spring 2015, after Siegel bought out Avila’s share in the horse.