Trainer Charlie Hadry has appealed a suspension handed him yesterday after one of his runners tested positive for a trace amount of cocaine.
The Maryland stewards ignored a request from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association in suspending Hadry for 15 days. Hadry, who has had one medication-related suspension in his 40-year training career, immediately appealed the penalty to the Maryland Racing Commission.
Subtle Step, trained by Hadry, won his first career race March 15 at Pimlico Race Course. The 3-year-old tested positive for a residual amount of a derivative of cocaine, which, according to a commission investigation, probably was ingested by Subtle Step after contact with his groom.
A tongue-tie used by the horse was found to be tainted with the drug, and the groom since has been suspended indefinitely by the stewards after also testing positive for the drug.
State chemist Thomas Lomagino said yesterday, "I know of no studies that have proven cocaine administered at such a low level to have an effect on the performance of a racehorse," but chief steward Clinton P. Pitts said he and his colleagues had no choice but to suspend Hadry.
"This was the most consistent way for the stewards to handle it," Pitts said. "If we made an exception, it would open a Pandora's box. Everyone would try to get some groom to roll over to beat the absolute insurer rule. If there is to be a change in policy, it will have to come from the commission."
The absolute insurer rule, recently fortified in a Prince George's Circuit Court ruling, essentially states that a trainer is ultimately responsible for the condition and treatment of his horse, regardless of the particulars of the case.
Following an open meeting of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association last week, the stewards were petitioned to make an exception for Hadry. Hadry and his lawyer, Alan Foreman, testified at a stewards hearing yesterday.
Pitts said the men "had no argument with the redistribution of the race purse, nor over the fact the horse had cocaine in his system. They felt there were extenuating circumstances and that we should not suspend Mr. Hadry."
Foreman said, "The nature of cocaine is that it is so prevalent in society with people using it that it's different from other drugs. Cocaine is everywhere. In other cases, the source of the cocaine could not be identified, but that has been done in this case. The source has been punished. To punish Charlie would be absolute overkill and tarnish his fine reputation. I think the commission should apply leeway in regard to the absolute insurer rule because of the particulars involved."
Positive cocaine tests for racehorses are at the core of a continuing, highly publicized controversy in California, where horses for respected trainers such as Wayne Lukas and Laz Barrera were found to be treated with cocaine. Charges against the trainers eventually were dropped, but the controversy lingers. When even minuscule amounts of cocaine come in contact with a horse's nose or mouth, a horse can test positive for it.
In the only recent cocaine-related incident in Maryland, trainer Bill Boniface was suspended for 15 days last year when Have You Testified tested positive. Boniface said yesterday that his case was similar to other cases in that he suspected a cocaine-using groom of having made incidental contact with the horse but never was able to substantiate his hypothesis.
* The final race on a schedule that trainer Scotty Schulhofer says ++
has "gone just like I planned it" comes today for Kentucky Derby favorite Fly So Free.
The colt is 3-for-3 this year, and, "that's what I set out for him," said Schulhofer, who will saddle the colt in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. The race will be simulcast to Pimlico and the Laurel inter-track outlet.
"I wasn't sure he'd win them all, but he has so far," said Schulhofer. "I just hope he can keep going."