After eight horses tested positive for doping, three experienced Sam Houston Race Park trainers, including Judd Kearl, the top trainer in the country in 2016, have been suspended and are set to face the Texas Racing Commission over alleged Class 1 drug violations.
Trainers Bryan Stroud and Jose Sanchez, along with Kearl, have been summarily suspended from running their horses at any Texas racetracks until a hearing before Texas Racing Commission examiners, when the trio will be given the chance to explain how nomifensine, an antidepressant that acts as a stimulant when given in large doses, ended up in their horses.
It all started on May 22, when Kearl's horse, Zoomin N Celebrating, was given a post-race blood serum test shortly after taking second place in the tenth quarter horse race of the night at Sam Houston Race Park.
The horse tested positive for nomifensine, a drug developed in the United States during the 1960s to treat depression in humans. While the drug had relatively few side effects, researchers found that nomifensine could make patients more agitated and thus was not a good choice for anyone already experiencing anxiety. However, in 1992, researchers learned that nomifensine can cause hemolytic anemia because of an abnormal breakdown of the red blood cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration withdrew its approval of the drug and manufacturers pulled it from the U.S. market a few years later, and it hasn't been sold in the United States since.
But unfortunately the drug has remained popular at racetracks.
After Zoomin N Celebrating tested positive, racing officials tested another of Kearl's horses, Million Dollar Kiss, after the horse finished second in the ninth race of the night at Retama Park in San Antonio on June 9. The next day, just after Chivalri thundered across the finish line in first, a post-race blood test once again popped up positive for nomifensine. The drug was also found in the blood of Tellem Honeys Here, who won the tenth race that night, according to the violation notices.
That same day, June 10, Sanchez's horse, Contentious Strike, finished first in the sixth race of the night at Retama.
The next weekend, another round of post-race blood serum tests yielded more apparently drugged horses. On June 16, Sanchez's horse Dancers Toast finished second in Retama's tenth race, and subsequently tested positive for nomifensine. The next day traces of the drug were found in Stroud's horse, Desdemona Rambler, and, once again, in Kearl's Zoomin N Celebrating.
In total, five of Kearl's horses, two from Sanchez's stable and one of Stroud's tested positive for nomifensine according to the Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at Texas A&M University, the lab that conducts tests for the Texas Racing Commission.
The three trainers were suspended by the Texas Racing Commission on Monday. The racing stewards outlined their reasons for suspending the trio, not mincing their words in each notice of the alleged violations:
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“This Class 1 drug is known to be dangerous in humans, has not been tested on horses, and has been removed from the market by the FDA. These positive tests were among eight total positives that occurred within a time period of a few weeks, by three trainers at two different tracks. The totality of these circumstances strongly indicate a scheme to cheat and also indicate that the drug was intentionally administered (by the accused trainer), either directly or at his instruction. Therefore, in order to protect the safety and health of race participants, both human and equine, and to protect the public from unlawful influences on the outcome of races, a summary suspension under Texas Racing Act Section 3:16 and Commission Rule 307.62 is hereby immediately imposed … pending a hearing on the merits.”
For now, none of the trainers are allowed to race their horses in Texas or at any other race track in the country, since racing commissions usually honor suspensions imposed by other state racing stewards. If the Texas Racing Commission finds that there was doping, the penalty for a first offense is a $10,000 fine and a one-year suspension. In Kearl's case, since he has five alleged violations, it could amount to a fine of more than $100,000 and more than 15 years’ suspension from racing.
The trainers were due to have a hearing before the Texas Racing Commission in August, but lawyers representing the trainers asked to reschedule for September.
Darrell Vienna, a former trainer himself, represents Kearl and Sanchez, and insists that the suspension lacks legal foundation since the suspension was handed down before the men got their hearing, according to the Paulick Report. Stroud's attorney, Trent Rowell, is filing an appeal to the Texas Racing Commission.