By: David Grening
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. – On a typical Monday in late January, the Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott would be in Florida, readying a large string of horses based at the Payson Park training center in Indiantown for upcoming races.
On the last Monday of January this year, Mott was in a conference room at the offices of the New York State Gaming Commission in upstate New York listening to testimony – and prepared to testify himself – in a case that goes back more than two years.
Mott, 63, is fighting a 15-day suspension and a $1,000 fine handed him by the New York stewards regarding overages of the therapeutic medication Flunixin (banamine) and Lasix found in the horse Saratoga Snacks when he finished last in the fourth race at Belmont Park on Sept. 20, 2014.
Mott’s case is based on what he perceives to be a lack of due process afforded him by the commission when there was not enough of a blood sample from the horse to be tested by an independent laboratory to confirm the findings of the state’s initial test. Mott and his attorney, Drew Mollica, have previously argued that the commission grants a right to a split or referee sample. They point to the form Mott signed requesting a split sample that twice uses the phraseology “my right to have an independent test.”
During testimony on Monday, New York State Gaming Commission steward Steve Lewandowski said there is no such rule.
“There is a split-sample sheet that you can request a split sample,” Lewandowski said. “There is a split-sample protocol. There’s no rule that says you’re entitled to a split sample.”
Later, Mollica showed that an updated version of the form to request a split sample has since removed the language “my right to an independent test.”
According to evidence introduced by Mollica, there have been 43 out of 104 occasions in New York since 2004 where there was not enough blood to have a split sample tested.
In the case of Saratoga Snacks, there was not enough blood to be retested. The only split test done was on the urine, which can confirm the presence of drugs in a horse’s system but not at what levels.
“A split test is an illusion,” Mollica said afterward. “No such thing exists. And there was no notice there might not have been any [blood] left.”
Bill Sekellick, the attorney for the commission, said that testimony from his witnesses – most notably the state’s testing director, Dr. George Maylin – would demonstrate that the drugs were administered in violation of state rules. Maylin, who listened to Monday’s hearing via video conference call, did not get the opportunity to testify but will do so at a later date.
Mollica also believes the sanctions handed to Mott were based on a faulty report by commission investigator Angel Gonzalez – who is now retired – who testified that he wrote in his report that the blood and urine tests that came back confirmed the overages of banamine and Lasix.
Lewandowski said he based his penalties in part on Gonzalez’s report.
Mott did not get the opportunity to testify on Monday as the testimony of other witnesses took nearly six hours before the hearing officer, Robert Liebers, adjourned for the day. It was not determined when the hearing would resume.
Following the hearing, Mott explained why he is pursuing the case. Had he not appealed, the suspension would have been reduced to seven days.
“I’m here because first of all, I don’t believe the results of the test could possibly be correct from the overages because the administration of the medications were all done in a timely manner and they were so many times over [the legal threshold] that it doesn’t seem possible,” Mott said.
Further, Mott said, without a split sample, “I have no way to defend myself. It’s not all about me. Anybody else that gets in this situation should have the ability to get a split sample.”
Mott said he is not fighting this to preserve his reputation. Mott ranks third among trainers in North American history in purse money won and ranks seventh in wins with 4,706, including the 2010 Belmont Stakes with Drosselmeyer, a photo of whom hangs on the wall in the gaming commission offices.
Mott does have a handful of fines from other jurisdictions, Florida and Kentucky, for therapeutic medication overages.
“If I paid my fine and took my seven days, I don’t think it’s going to make a difference,” Mott said. “Where this could come into play is maybe there’s a more serious drug involved and a guy doesn’t have a chance to defend himself.”