Zito 2000 Saratoga Suspension Upheld

Trainer Nick Zito's suspension by New York regulators for a positive drug test involving a race at Saratoga was upheld Thursday by a state appeals court.

Zito was fined $2,000 and ordered suspended for 15 days by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board after a urine sample from Mark's Miner tested positive for lidocaine after a 2000 race at Saratoga Springs.

Zito claimed the board acted in a "harsh, arbitrary, capricious and irrational'' way after it imposed the suspension on him–a penalty that was not recommended by the hearing officer who first decided the case.

The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court rejected Zito's appeal, dismissing his claim that the drug could have been ingested accidentally by the horse after the race. "The primary flaw in (Zito's) argument is factual,'' the five-member court said in a unanimous decision.

The court also rejected his claim that his due process rights were violated and that the penalties were unduly harsh, noting that the suspension and fines levied against him was "typical and well within the range of penalties imposed by (the racing board) in similar cases and we find no basis upon which to disturb it.''

Michael Hoblock, chairman of the state racing board, said the court's decision "speaks for the process as followed by the board from the initial investigation right through the hearing and then the board's action.''

"Obviously we try to do everything here that would withstand a court challenge, and I can't remember the last time there was a successful court challenge against us,'' he added.

Leo McGinty, a Long Island lawyer who represents Zito, said the trainer "is inclined perhaps to appeal'' the decision to New York's top court, the Court of Appeals. "We think we were right,'' McGinty said after talking with Zito Thursday afternoon.

McGinty called Zito a credit to the industry and that the board overstepped its authority by imposing such a harsh penalty when legitimate questions were raised about how the horse's urine tested positive. "He's never done anything wrong in his life,'' McGinty said of Zito.

Marks Minor tested positive for the drug used to control irregular heartbeats and reduce pain 38 minutes after finishing second in a race on August 2, 2000. The drug cannot be administered within one week of a race.

The court said, however, that a veterinarian who performed the drug tests testified that the drug had been given within 24 hours of the Saratoga race, and that he was "absolutely certain'' it was administered within the one week ban period. The court rejected as "purely speculative'' Zito's claims that the horse could have come in contact with the drug, which can test positive in a urine sample just 30 minutes after it's given, in the barn or by licking a handler's hands after the race.