Racing commission is guilty of cop-out Commentary

May 09, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

Three years ago Charlie Hadry epitomized the best in Maryland racing, winning the Wood Memorial in track record time with Private Terms, who went on to become the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

There was just not enough reflected glory to go around.

Hadry, his stable, and his main patron, the late Stuart Janney Jr., were lionized as all that was good about the state's racing industry.

But when it came time yesterday for the Maryland racing industry to stand behind Charlie Hadry, the board that regulates the sport in this state copped out.

Too bad Mr. Janney, a former chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, died last year. Because he was sorely needed yesterday to come to the defense of his longtime trainer and bring some common sense to the board he once governed.

Hadry appeared before the 10-man panel -- four of the commissioners were absent -- to protest a 15-day suspension that track stewards handed down to him last month.

One of the Janney horses -- Subtle Step, now owned by Stuart Janney's son -- had tested positive for cocaine after winning a race at Pimlico on March 15.

But, as the chain of proof unfolded yesterday, Hadry, whose impeccable reputation is even acknowledged by the commissioners, was held responsible for someone else's misdeed.

Gary Hess, the groom who worked for Hadry and cared for Subtle Step, readily testified to the commission that he has used cocaine, and had used it as recently as three weeks before the incident.

Subtle Step races with a tongue tie. A tongue tie is a piece of flannel that is wrapped around a horse's tongue and then tied underneath his jaw. The purpose is to keep the horse from swallowing his tongue during a race. It is a common piece of equipment.

Hess testified that before he put the tongue tie on Subtle Step, he put it in the pocket of his coat. It is the same pocket he had used to carry cocaine for his own personal use, he testified.

He put the tongue tie on the horse, a move which involves putting your hands in the horse's mouth.

Later, after the horse's urine test came back positive, both Hess and the tongue tie were tested for cocaine. Both of them were positive.

From the testimony, it became evident that there was no way for Subtle Step to ingest cocaine other than through his association with Hess. As Tom Lomangino Jr., head of the state's testing lab, testified, no one would give cocaine to a horse willingly. It has no therapeutic benefits. It is not a stimulant nor a depressant.

Cocaine is not a drug for horses. It is a drug of choice for humans and it is prevalent on the backstretch with the humans that handle horses. In the '90s this is a fact of life and as Clinton Pitts Jr., the head steward, testified yesterday, it is an increasing problem. This is not the first time a horse has tested positive for cocaine.

It has surfaced in California, involving trainers such as Wayne Lukas and the late Laz Barrera, who served no suspensions. It came up in Maryland last fall with Billy Boniface.

Boniface did not challenge the case. Unlike Hadry, he never could find out how his horse was exposed to the cocaine.

In the Hadry case, the source of the cocaine was identified and there was nothing Hadry could have done to prevent its use.

But the commission decided to ignore two hours worth of testimony. It suspended Hadry for 15 days under the so-called absolute insurer rule. That means a trainer is held responsible no matter how his horse gets a prohibited drug.

The commissioners, however, can use latitude in applying the rule, and they can refuse to apply it in extraordinary cases. They did so last year when six horses were mistakenly given the drug Dipyrone instead of Lasix by a veterinarian, and no one was held to blame. But yesterday, the commission didn't think Charlie Hadry was extraordinary enough.

Instead, the record of one of Maryland's great trainers is stained. The groom that blemished the record walks away free. But the trainer's reputation is marred forever.

Charlie Hadry deserved better.

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