The Billy Boniface stable will drug test all of its stable employees in the wake of a cocaine-related suspension handed down to Boniface this week.
Boniface, 48, was suspended for 15 days (Sept. 10-24) after on of the horses he trains, Lacy Underalls, tested positive for cocaine during a routine urinalysis. The filly was tested after she finished third in the fifth race at Pimlico on Aug. 17.
Even though such incidents can be attributed as accidental under the rules the racing, the trainer is held absolutely responsible when such a positive test is returned.
Boniface, who became something of a local hero after he wo the 1983 Preakness with Deputed Testamony, operates a 40-horse stable employing 13 workers at the family's sprawling farm in Darlington. He vehemently denied to track stewards that the drug was knowingly administered to the horse. He is drug testing his employees "to try to get to the bottom of this thing," he told officials.
Thomas F. Lomangino, director of the state's analytica laboratory that tests the samples, did not say how much cocaine was found in the sample, "but any time one of our tests comes up positive, we conclude that it's a substantial amount."
"We think there are two possible scenarios," said Kevin Boniface the trainer's 24-year-old son, who is saddling the stable's horses during his father's suspension. "We were told [by a state lab official] that only a light amount of the drug was found in the urinalysis. We believe it was transmitted to the horse by someone who either worked for us temporarily the day of the race or who works for us at the farm."
Boniface said the horse was driven by the farm's regular va driver to Pimlico the day of the race. "Then our van driver picked up a hot walker to cool the horse out after the race. We think the hot walker either had some cocaine on his hand and patted the horse or else someone in our own barn did."
Lomangino confirmed that that type of transmission is entirel possible. "Just a little white powder on the tip of your finger could amount to five milligrams of cocaine," Lomangino said. "If you had someone working for you who was either on crack or snorted cocaine, the person could be rubbing a horse's leg with DMSO or some other [liniment] and the trace could be worked into the horse's system just from the residue on his hand."
The elder Boniface, who is out of town, could not be reached fo comment. His son said "this whole thing is driving him crazy. We wrote a letter explaining the situation to our owners, and all of them have stood by us. If anything, we are anti-drug and don't like the use of medication, even Lasix [a commonly used legal medication] on horses, although we have to use it to stay competitive."
When the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association board o directors voted in July to condone the use of therapeutic drugs, including Lasix, on racehorses, only two directors voted against the proposal. One was Billy Boniface.
Cocaine is believed to be a performance enhancer in horses similar to morphine. But Dr. David Zipf, head state veterinarian at Pimlico, said he didn't know much about the drug and how it affected horses. "It's something not commonly used with horses," he said. He said cocaine could be injected into joints "to deaden nerves, but there are all sorts of other things that can be used to do the same thing that are legal."
Officials said one other trainer was suspended in 1985 whe similar traces of cocaine were found in a horse's urine sample. But Lacy Underalls' positive test is the first since then.
Other jurisdictions such as California and New York have ha similar occurrences, "because the presence of cocaine among backstretch workers is so strong," Lomangino said.
Last year Wayne Lukas and Laz Barrera were among a handfu of trainers who had cocaine positives returned in California, although the cases eventually were dropped by the California Horse Racing Board due to insufficient evidence.
"The bottom line is that horsemen have to know who is workin for them," Lomangino said.