PA regulation ‘suspends’ horses after most positive tests

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: July 27, 2017

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission July 26 approved a new regulation that will make racehorses that test positive for a prohibited substance ineligible to compete for a period of time.

The regulation, which is expected to take effect Sept. 1, calls for such horses to be placed on the stewards’ list for Thoroughbred racing and the judges’ list for Standardbred racing. The PHRC, which falls under the state Department of Agriculture, at its monthly meeting approved the measure with little discussion.

For a Class 1 or Class 2 positive as designated by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, a horse will be ineligible to race for 90 days from the date the substance was identified in tests. For Class 3 substances or high TCO2 readings, the horse will be banned from competing for 30 days from the time the substance was identified in tests.

The “suspension” regulation doesn’t pertain to Class 4 substances under ARCI guidelines.

The ARCI model rule regarding recommended penalties for positives for prohibited substances calls for a horse to be placed on the veterinarians’ list for 180 days—it can’t race—for Class A substances. For Class B violations—the presence of more than one non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or for TCO2 positives—the suspension period for a horse is 45 days for the third such offense.

The PHRC regulation states that “any horse which receives a positive test or is declared positive for prohibited substances from a jurisdiction outside of Pennsylvania for a Class 1, 2, 3 medication or high blood-gas reading” will be placed on the stewards’ list or judges’ list at Pennsylvania racetracks.

It also addresses horse transfers: “To the extent they are in direct conflict, this subpart is intended to supersede any other regulation or provision which allows the horse to be sold or otherwise transferred in order to be eligible to race.”

Alan Pincus, an attorney who regularly represents horsemen in medication and ejection cases in Pennsylvania, at the meeting raised concerns about the legality of the regulation. If a horse is found positive for a prohibited substance, it will be ineligible to race even before the results of a split-sample test are returned.

“Doesn’t that create a problem with due process?” Pincus said. “You’re proposing to put a horse out of commission before a person gets his day in court.”

Jorge Augusto, legal counsel for the PHRC, responded that the horse, not the trainer, is placed on the stewards’ or judges’ list. “It doesn’t matter,” he said.

The regulation’s general purpose is to “continue to ensure the health and safety of the racing horse, maintain the integrity of racing by imposing fair and equitable oversight of medication/drug penalties and to prevent the circumvention of those penalties as applied to the racing horse.” It notes that ineligibility to race is “in addition to any penalties imposed upon any owner, trainer, veterinarian or other licensee as a result of a medication/drug positive.”

In other business July 26, the PHRC upheld the ejection of trainer Eduardo Rojas from Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. Rojas is the husband of trainer Murray Rojas, who in late June was found guilty of multiple charges of misbranding animal drugs but found not guilty on charges of wire fraud.

Eduardo Rojas had been training the stables’ horses for a few years. He was ejected from Penn National after his wife’s trial, and the PHRC held a hearing on the matter before its regular meeting July 26.

The PHRC affirmed the Penn National ejection but “modified” it from permanent to three years.

In a related matter that required no action by the racing commission, Penn National Director of Racing Operations Eric Johnston told commissioners the track reached a settlement agreement with trainer Juan Vazquez, who was ejected from Penn National but filed an appeal of the action in Commonwealth Court. The agreement stipulates that Vazquez will be unable to race at Penn National for one year; he currently races at Parx Racing in southeastern Pennsylvania.

(Penn National photo by Tom LaMarra)