Trainer Carla Gaines has until Aug. 1 to appeal a 30-day suspension and $2,500 fine adopted by the California Horse Racing Board as a result of two of her 2012 starters testing in excess of permitted levels of testosterone within a one-week period.
The CHRB's action, taken in executive session during its regularly scheduled board meeting at Del Mar July 18, was announced in a written decision dated July 23. The board, which has been testing for steroids since 2008, reviewed the transcript of a five-day hearing between May 20-30 conducted by stewards Scott Chaney, Kim Sawyer, and Tom Ward held at Betfair Hollywood Park.
The complaint against Gaines was originally filed last September.
Gaines' attorney, Darrell Vienna, said he has already requested a delay in imposition of the penalty with the CHRB, as well as a request for an administrative hearing. He said he expects the request for the stay will be denied by the regulatory agency, in which case he will seek injunctive relief from the state Superior Court until an adminstrative hearing is completed.
"I was really surprised and disappointed with the ruling by the stewards in this case," he said.
Post-race urine analysis on two of Gaines' horses showed excessive levels of testosterone in fillies A Little Luckier July 14, 2012, and Winding Way July 21, 2012. A Little Luckier, owned by John Harris, finished second in a maiden race for 2-year-old fillies at Hollywood Park, while Spendthrift Farm's Winding Way won an allowance/optional claiming race at Del Mar.
As part of the judgement, both horses were disqualified and the purses—$10,000 for Harris and $42,600 for Spendthrift—were ordered redistributed.
Harris, a longtime commissioner and twice chairman of the CHRB until leaving the board last year, said in an e-mail that he accepted the decision to redistribute the purses. But he said the severity of the penalty was "completely shocking and an example of an unjust verdict."
He added, "The suspension is clearly uncalled for and even if it were, it is an exercise of CHRB bullying to require a trainer with a clean record and a number of employees and clients to shut down an ongoing operation in a week. If Carla so requests it, CHRB should stay the ruling to allow her time to consider an appeal."
Without further action, the penalties will go into effect as scheduled Aug. 1, meaning Gaines' high-profile barn would miss most of the Del Mar meeting, which ends Sept 4.
Gaines said the finding "was pretty shocking."
"I had sat through hours and hours of hearings," she said. "I didn't think there was any way I'd get a suspension."
Excessive levels of testosterone is considered a Class 3 violation in the penalty category B.
During the hearing it was determined that both fillies had been given the feed supplement Equi-Bolic, which, according to the report, contains the testosterone precursor dehydroepiandrosterone.
Gaines said she has been giving the product to her horses for two years, and to her knowledge, it does not contain any anabolic steroids.
"I have to appeal, I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't intend to do anything wrong," she said.
Testosterone is permitted up to 55 nanograms per milliliter in fillies and mares. Testing at the University of California-Davis' Ken Maddy Analytical Laboratory reported a level of 390 nanograms for A Little Luckier and 193 nanograms for Winding Way. Split samples tested at the University of Florida at Gaines' request found significantly lower concentrations of 140 and 75, respectively.
Gaines and her attorney challenged the accuracy of the tests but stewards rejected the claim.
Vienna said there is no anaboic steroid, or any other prohibited substance, in the food supplement.
In their report, the stewards noted that Gaines has "a spotless record" in medication violations. It also found that the feed supplement was purchased by Gaines "simply and legally over the Internet." However, the report added, "the fact that the product was called 'Equi-bolic'—an 'Equine Anabolic Formula'—and boasted that the supplement 'will enhance optimum muscle gain and speed' is, for this Board, an aggravating circumstance.
"Evidence revealed that a reasonable trainer, or person for that matter, given the ingredients, claims, and the name of the product, would be on notice that it might run afoul of the CHRB rules and would have investigated its legality beyond a casual conversation with a private veterinarian."
Vienna said that Gaines had more than a "casual conversation" with her vet about the product and had been assured that it was a legal food supplement.
"Remember, this is a trainer who has been training for 30 years and has never had a serious medication violation," he said.
Harris, in his statement, also disagreed with the conclusion.
"Clearly, any reasonable person would have been unaware of any risk of feeding the supplement allegedly involved, and there is no evidence that there was any intentional use of a prohibited substance, or any reason to feel that even if present it would have enhanced performance," Harris wrote.
"I hate to even suggest that somehow she got caught up in some scheme by the CHRB to damage her, possibly because she trained for me, as well as (former CHRB chairman) Keith Brackpool, Warren Williamson, (Spendthrift owner) Wayne Hughes, and other prominent horse owners, although some may infer that. I still can’t figure it out.
"I hate to conclude that there was any sort of vendetta to purposely damage her character, but it has been damaged, and it's important that people know all the facts in this case."