Four misdemeanor charges were dropped against a veterinarian accused of injecting horses with vodka to calm them before races after three witnesses scheduled to testify couldn't be located.
Dr. Jay Stewart, the former president of the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association, faced six months in jail and $1,000 in fines, or both, on each Class II misdemeanor count of tampering with a publicly exhibited contest.
“Without their testimony, I'm unable to go forward on these counts,” Hall County, Neb., Attorney Mark Young said. An investigation into the 2005 allegations at Fonner Park will continue, and Young said he might file more charges later.
Stewart said in an interview at his home that he continues to treat horses at Fonner Park as a private contractor and operate his clinic in Grand Island, where the racetrack is located. Talk of injecting vodka or other substances into jittery horses is common in racing circles, he said.
“I don't know if it's right or not,” Stewart said. “I don't agree with it, but I know why they want to do it. They're trying to find a way to settle their nerves just a little bit--not affect their performance but just soothe them 5% or 10% so they can get through a stressful period going through the paddock area and that period right when they load into the gate.”
Tami Radney, a former associate of Stewart at Grand Island Veterinary Hospital, told a state racing commission investigator in October 2005 that Stewart had given horses shots of alcohol before races over a six-month period in 2005. She said each shot was 60 cubic centimeters, or about two ounces.
Stewart said two ounces of vodka for a horse would be like two teaspoons for a human.
“I wouldn't recommend it,” Stewart said. “First of all, I don't think it works. The dosage is so minuscule. But I might be inclined to try it on a horse that's in training just to see--but not on race day. That's what they accuse me of. And that's just wrong.”
Young charged Stewart for allegedly injecting vodka into horses in 2005 on Feb. 20, Feb. 27, March 11, and April 9.
Blood and urine samples are taken from all winning horses and most second-place finishers, with the samples checked for performance-enhancing drugs and therapeutic medications that aren't allowed in a horse's system on race day.
The charges were dropped, Young said, because three witnesses couldn’t be located in Hall County. According to court records, attempts were made to serve subpoenas March 29 to Armando and Kelli Martinez and Jodi Lopez. All have addresses in Shelby in Polk County.
Armando Martinez is a longtime rider on the Nebraska racing circuit, and Kelli Martinez and Lopez are horse owners. All three were subpoenaed for the original Jan. 24 trial date.
“Despite the fact that racing is taking place at Fonner Park, they are not in the county,” Young said. “I'm somewhat surprised witnesses who are involved with horse racing aren't available. But they aren't, for whatever reason.”
Stewart said his reputation has been damaged by the national publicity the case has generated.