Last month, I was perusing the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) stewards’ minutes, and I came across something that caught my eye. It was the guts of a stewards’ ruling for a positive test. Nothing unusual there, except for the phrase, “fourth Class 4 offense in 365 days.”
Now that’s something you don’t see every day! I’ve been following racing regulation closely for more than 30 years, and I know that a four-peat is a rarity. But more surprising than a trainer having four positive tests within 365 days is that none resulted in a suspension or a disqualification.
That’s right! No days! And the owners kept the purse money!
On Nov. 15, 2019, the board of stewards at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club issued a ruling against trainer Jerry Wallace for a positive test for the drug dexamethasone, a corticosteroid. The race in question took place in May at Santa Anita Park. After reviewing Mr. Wallace’s previous rulings going back to 2017 and information provided by the CHRB, I pieced together the timeline below.
Date Track Drug Amount Legal Limit Penalty
May 19, 2019 Santa Anita Dexamethasone 9 pg/ml 5 pg/ml $5,000
May 10, 2019 Los Alamitos Dexamethasone 30pg/ml 5 pg/ml $2,500
November 23, 2018 Los Alamitos Betamethasone 36 pg/ml 10 pg/ml $1,000
July 12, 2018 Los Alamitos Dexamethasone 45 pg/ml 5 pg/ml $1,000
October 7, 2017 Los Alamitos Dexamethasone 45 pg/ml 5 pg/ml $ 500
Let’s see what the industry standards are for such infractions. The Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) has established recommended penalty guidelines for drug violations. Below are the recommendations for Class C drugs. For each offense the minimum penalty is noted, absent mitigating circumstances.
1st offense Minimum fine of $1,000, Disqualification and loss of purse
2nd offense Minimum fine of $1,500 and 15-day suspension, Disqualification and loss of purse
3rd offense Minimum fine of $2,500 and 30-day suspension, Disqualification and loss of purse
4th offense Not addressed
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the CHRB and RCI penalty structures as they apply to Mr. Wallace’s positive tests, again, absent mitigating circumstances.
Date CA Penalty RCI Penalty Guidelines
May 19, 2019 $5,000 Absent
May 10, 2019 $2,500 $2,500 and 30-day suspension, Disqualification and loss of purse
November 23, 2018 $1,000 $1,500 and 15-day suspension, Disqualification and loss of purse
July 12, 2018 $1,000 $1,500 and 15-day suspension, Disqualification and loss of purse
October 7, 2017 $ 500 $1,000, Disqualification and loss of purse
The CHRB does not follow the RCI penalty guidelines. It has its own guidelines and they are very lenient, at least by industry standards.
With respect to Class C penalties, the differences between the two penalty structures are substantial. The most significant differences are that (1) the CHRB does not suspend the trainer regardless of the number of violations, and (2) the CHRB does not require the forfeiture of purses earned and order a purse redistribution.
With respect to Mr. Wallace’s penalties, had the CHRB adopted the RCI guidelines, or had Mr. Wallace’s positive tests occurred in most any other U.S. racing jurisdiction, he would have likely served suspensions totaling at least 90 days. I say at least 90 days because I am applying 30 days to the May 19, 2019, positive test, which was his fourth violation within a 356-day period. The RCI penalty guidelines do not contemplate a trainer’s getting four positive tests in one year. It’s logical to assume that the May 2019 infraction would result in a suspension greater than 30 days. In one such instance in Indiana, while I was director of the racing commission, a fourth violation resulted in a 45-day suspension.
Let’s look at what I believe to be the deficiencies in the California penalty structure with regard to Class C penalties.
I believe that not suspending a trainer for such an infraction invites repeat violations. If regulators are going to treat such an offense so lightly, why should a trainer take a violation seriously?
Generally speaking, if a trainer knows that a therapeutic positive test will not result in a disqualification they could inappropriately treat a horse in order to gain an advantage over the other horses in a race. My guess that almost every owner who ran behind the offending horse feels cheated. Why would they not? Their horse played by the rules!
Some may claim that a trainer would not do that or that there is no evidence that this type of behavior is happening in California.
My response is simple: Why have a penalty structure that enables and even encourages such a possibility?