By: Frank Angst

The Minnesota Racing Commission has reached settlements to resolve three high-level positives found in recent equine post-race drug tests.

Two of the positives were for pemoline (Cylert), and one was for cardarine—both substances that call for the highest level of sanctions according to industry standards. The MRC cited mitigating circumstances as the reason it opted to settle the cases and apply lenient penalties relative to the recommended standards.

In a settlement agreement with trainer Ray Tracy Jr., who had two positives for pemoline, the conditioner ultimately figures to serve a 90-day suspension and pay a $2,500 fine.

In a settlement agreement with trainer Judd William Becker over a positive for cardarine, he figures to ultimately serve a 90-day suspension and pay a $2,500 fine.

The penalties in the settlements, each approved Dec. 13, are well below the industry standard recommended for a single penalty of a substance in this class, which calls for a minimum one-year suspension and $10,000 fine.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International’s Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances and Recommended Penalties Model Rule, which regulators use to define seriousness of offenses and in assigning sanctions, lists pemoline in the highest classification of concern and calls for the highest-level penalty, Category A. In late October, the ARCI board classified cardarine as a Class II substance (second-highest level of concern) and placed it in the Category A penalty category.

MRC executive director Tom DiPasquale did not want to elaborate on the mitigating circumstances referenced in the settlement.

“I don’t want to get into that because this was a closed disciplinary hearing, and it’s protected by Minnesota’s Data Practices Act,” said DiPasquale, who noted that different states have different standards when it comes to defining mitigating and aggravating circumstances. “We generally consider the same types of things as to whether it’s mitigating or it’s aggravating, and we balance those out.”

Tracy said he presented evidence that pemoline can be a metabolite of the dewormer he was administering his horses. In 2016, the Indiana Horse Racing Commission issued a warning to horsemen that there is strong evidence the dewormers levamisole and tetramisole can produce aminorex and pemoline as metabolites. Tracy said the dewormer he was using contained levamisole. Levamisole itself is a Class II substance that calls for a Category B penalty.

BloodHorse could not reach Becker for comment.

For both trainers, the commission imposed 180-day suspensions and $5,000 fines, but each trainer will have half of his fine and half the suspension days stayed if they have “no additional Class I, II, or IIIA medication violations” during a probation period of one year.

Under the settlements, the three horses who tested positive for the substances are all disqualified. But the settlement does not include any additional time off for the horses. Under the ARCI standard, first-offense Class A penalties call for horses to be placed on the veterinarian’s list for 180 days and pass a commission-approved examination before coming off the list.

The pemoline positives for Tracy-trained horses were for Oh Newman, following an off-the-board finish in the ninth race Sept. 1 at Canterbury Park, and According to Aspen, who finished second in the sixth race Sept. 2 at Canterbury. Oh Newman started for owners Zachary Roush and Patrick Sullivan, and According to Aspen started for Tanner Tracy, who will forfeit a $6,300 purse.

The cardarine positive for Becker results in the disqualification of Bushrod from his victory in the $100,000 Mystic Lake Turf Express Stakes Aug. 25 at Canterbury. Becker, who also owned Bushrod, will lose out on the $60,000 winner’s share of the purse. The victory had been the lone stakes win for the 5-year-old Grey Memo gelding.

Both substances have a high potential to affect performance and have been linked to health concerns in humans.

The FDA defines pemoline as a central nervous system stimulant that has been used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The FDA said pemoline use in humans has been linked to hepatic failure, with 12 cases since 1998 resulting in death or the need for a liver transplant.

Cardarine, also known as GW501516, is a peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor agonist and is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency as a performance-enhancing drug. Human bodybuilders have used cardarine, believing it increases fat burning and endurance while reducing recovery time from workouts. In 2013, the WADA issued a warning that “serious toxicities” were discovered in pre-clinical studies.

While regulators hadn’t classified cardarine at the time of the positive test in Minnesota, the MRC noted that in such situations ARCI guidelines suggest regulators should contact the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and ARCI, and they should treat the positive as a Class I violation with a Category A penalty, unless otherwise advised.

The initial positives in all three cases were called by the MRC’s official lab, Industrial Laboratories.

Tracy requested split samples for both horses, and they each tested positive for pemoline, which calls for a Class A penalty if detected at any level. The settlement agreement lists the pemoline levels found in the split samples examined at the Texas A&M Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at 0.75 nanograms per milliliter for the sample from Oh Newman and 1.4 nanograms per milliliter for the sample from According to Aspen.

Becker also requested a split sample, which was examined at Truesdail Laboratories. It tested positive for cardarine, which calls for a Category A penalty if detected at any level. The settlement lists the cardarine concentration level reported in the split sample at 48 nanograms per milliliter.

Because Minnesota does not participate in the multiple medication violation system of the National Uniform Medication Program, no points will be assigned to either trainer. While not speaking specifically to either case, DiPasquale said factors like a trainer’s past records are factored in to making decisions on penalties.

“Like all states, we review a trainer’s record, particularly in terms of recency and severity. Those things are factors that are considered,” DiPasquale said.

Under MMV guidelines, each Category A violation calls for six points to be assigned. When points reach the 6-8.5 range, the standard calls for 30-60 days of suspension. Based on the standards as written, both cases would have resulted in at least six MMV points assigned. Tracy’s situation could have been viewed as a pair of Category A violations, which could have seen MMV states assign 12 points.

DiPasquale said Minnesota prefers the flexibility to adjust its sanctions to each case.

“We have not adopted the MMVs. We’ve considered it,” DiPasquale said. “I support the spirit of the multiple medication violations (standards). But I think the RCI penalty matrix, which allows for upward or downward deviation, and our rules, which specify that aggravating and mitigating factors can cause us to deviate from that penalty framework. (That) allows us the same flexibility as a state that has MMVs. It’s why we’ve been reticent to this point to adopt them, because we haven’t seen the need for it.”

Last year, Tracy was suspended 60 days and fined $1,000 by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission for a carisoprodol (Class II, Category B) positive in 2016.

The PHRC also fined Tracy $1,500 when he had a horse test positive for clenbuterol (Class III, Category B) after a November 2015 race. Also in 2015, the West Virginia Racing Commission said from Oct. 3-Nov. 27 Tracy had five positives from four different horses, with three of those violations calling for Category B penalties (two for glycopyrrolate, one for clenbuterol). In that case, the WVRC noted the horses were in the care of an assistant trainer and assigned a $2,500 fine, 90-day suspension, and eight MMV points.

According to available records, Becker, who only has 246 starts since 2011, has not previously been sanctioned for a medication violation.