The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority reached a settlement agreement with trainer Patrick Biancone Oct. 17 that will bar him from training horses for six months and prevent him from applying for a trainer's license for an additional six months.
After more than two hours of closed-door discussion, the KHRA voted 9-2 to approve the settlement agreement with Biancone. Authority members Tom Ludt and Dell Hancock voted against the agreement.
The suspension begins Nov. 1 and will prohibit Biancone from entering any non-public areas of a racetrack until Nov. 1, 2008. Biancone will be permitted to act as a bloodstock agent, consultant, or manager during the term of his suspension.
“The loss of a trainer’s license, for what is effectively a one-year period, is a serious penalty and supports the decision by the state racing stewards,” said William Street, chairman of the KHRA.
As part of the agreement, Biancone has agreed to withdraw as the trainer of record for any horses currently under his care and will not be the trainer of record for any horses entered in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup World Championships Oct. 26-27 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Pre-entries for the races were taken Oct. 17, and Biancone was listed as the trainer of seven runners.
"This has been a very difficult time for me," Biancone said in a statement issued Oct. 18 by his attorney. "I did not know cobra venom had been placed in my barn, I do not use cobra venom and have not used it. It is now time to move on. I offered and accepted the settlement because I wanted to do what is best for racing, a sport that I love. Most importantly, I wanted to resolve this matter before Breeders' Cup... a celebration of our sport's greatest athletes - the horses - and their breeders and owners."
KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood said to her knowledge no member of the KHRA staff had spoken to Breeders' Cup or the New Jersey Racing Commission regarding the specifics of the suspension.
In early October, Biancone was suspended for one year by the Kentucky stewards for the possession of cobra venom, a prohibited substance and Class A drug under Kentucky's medication rules. Cobra venom can act as a painkiller. The substance was found in a refrigerator in one of Biancone's barns at Keeneland Racecourse during a June 22 search by authority investigators.
Biancone appealed the one-year penalty, and the appeal has been dropped as part of the settlement.
During the first six months of the suspension, Biancone will be prohibited from entering any racetrack, but will be allowed to attend horse sales at Keeneland, with the exception of Keeneland's April 2-year-olds in training sale because that sale is held at a time when the Central Kentucky racetrack is operating a live meet. During the second six months of his suspension Biancone can attend live races, but must remain only in public areas of the racetrack.
Biancone is the first person suspended in Kentucky under new rules that prohibit a trainer who is suspended for six months or more from benefiting financially from his horses while under suspension for a Class A medication violation. The penalties were put in place at the same time as the state's medication rules were tightened.
Under the rule, Biancone will have to transfer his horses to trainers with whom he has no financial ties. The settlement agreement allows the KHRA to examine Biancone's financial records during the term of the suspension to ensure compliance.
"This agreement does not give up the trainer-responsibility rule," said Underwood. "We absolutely believe in that rule."
The six-month suspension was reached based on mitigating factors. According to Underwood, Biancone said he had no knowledge that the cobra venom was in his barn and that he had not directed a veterinarian to use it.
At the same time Biancone's barns were searched, investigators for the authority searched the truck of Biancone's veterinarian, Dr. Rodney Stewart. The search reportedly turned up two other prohibited drugs, along with mislabeled medications. Stewart was suspended for five years. He is appealing that suspension.