A New York state appeals court has upheld the 45-day suspension and $3,000 fine against leading trainer Todd Pletcher after one of his horses was found with a banned substance following a 2004 race at Saratoga.
The Appellate Division of the New York state Supreme Court Dec. 7 rejected all of Pletcher's arguments (PDF)
in the lawsuit he brought seeking to overturn the fine and suspension last year by the state Racing and Wagering Board.
The horse, Tales of Glory, was found to have mepivacaine, a local anesthetic, in his system after the third race at Saratoga Aug. 14, 2004. The horse finished first but was later ruled unplaced.
Pletcher, the 2004 Eclipse Award-winning trainer, said he was unaware of any illegal drugs being administered to the horse, and his defense included a number of other possible explanations for how the horse might have tested positive. The appeals court dismissed them.
Mepivacaine has been classified as a Class 2 drug, meaning it has a high potential to affect performance. Racing regulators said a veterinarian determined the drug had been administered to the horse within a prohibited seven-day period prior to the race.
The appellate court said it was "un-persuaded by each'' of Pletcher's arguments in the matter. The court said Pletcher sought to show that the racing board's interpretation of the law "unduly burdens'' trainers because it does not take into account accidental ways drugs can enter a horse's system or in ways in which the trainer would have no knowledge.
The court said Pletcher's argument "overlooks the purpose and policy behind the trainer responsibility rule.'' The court added that the rule "deliberately'' places a responsibility on trainers to uphold the integrity and fairness of racing in the state. It noted that the law requires that trainers be "held responsible for any positive test unless he can show by substantial evidence that neither he nor any employee nor agent was responsible for the administration of the drug or other restricted substance.''
The court said it could "find no basis'' to overturn the racing board's determination that Pletcher failed to "rebut the presumption'' about the drug's presence. It rejected the alternate theories about how the drug may have found its way into the horse as speculation.
Pletcher also argued that an official at the racing board "improperly interfered'' with a referee's penalty decision, arguing that the official sought to impose a stricter penalty than was being considered. The court rejected that claim, saying an e-mail on the subject from the racing board official was not coercive and that the penalty is "in line with those imposed in similar circumstances.''
Pletcher's lawyer could not be reached for comment Thursday night to see if a further legal appeal will be made in the case.Download full text of Appeals Court Decision Here (PDF)