Stewart's Cobra Venom Suspension Upheld

Judge reversed an additional one-year suspension for possession of other substances.

A Franklin, Ky. Circuit Court judge has upheld the four-year suspension of veterinarian Rodney Stewart for possession of cobra venom but overturned a one-year suspension for possessing two other substances.

In his Sept. 21 ruling, Judge Philip J. Shepherd said the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission "acted within its discretion in suspending petitioner (Stewart) for four years for possession of alpha cobratoxin on association grounds."

However, Shepherd ruled that a one-year suspension given to Stewart for possession of cardidopa and levodopa should be overturned because the commission failed to show whether the administration of the drug "may endanger the health or welfare of the horse or endanger the safety of the rider."

Stewart was suspended for four years for possession of three sealed vials of cobra venom, a substance used to kill pain, and suspended for one year for the possession of carbidopa and levodopa, both of which are used to treat Parkinson’s disease in humans. The substances were found during a June 22, 2007 search and seizure of items in a barn at the Keeneland training center occupied by trainer Patrick Biancone. Biancone was also suspended six months and then did not seek licensing for an additional six months before resuming his training career.

After exhausting all regulatory appeals, attorneys for the veterinarian appealed the commission’s action to the circuit court, contending they were not supported by "substantial evidence," and were "arbitrary and capricious, and/or an abuse of discretion," and that the commission lacked jurisdiction over the Keeneland barn where the substances were found.

Shepherd said that in determining whether the commission’s action, and that of an administrative agency, was arbitrary, the court weighed whether the action was within the agency’s scope of its granted powers, whether the agency provided procedural due process, and whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence.

First, Shepherd determined that the search at Biancone’s barn was valid and that the structure, located across a public road from the main Keeneland racecourse property, is "association grounds" and subject to the commission’s jurisdiction.

The judge also provided a detailed analysis of each point cited by Stewart’s attorneys as the basis for overturning the cobra venom suspension before concluding that "Given the state’s interest in preserving the integrity of racing by preventing the administration of prohibited substances to race horses, the nature of alpha cobratoxin, and the deference required to the hearing officer’s assessment of Stewart’s credibility, the commission acted within its discretion in suspending petitioner for four years for possession of alpha cobratoxin on association grounds."

Read Circuit Ruling