Maryland Reduces Penalties Tied to Drug Positives

The Maryland Racing Commission has reduced the penalties of two trainers who had been dealt lengthy suspensions after their horses raced at Pimlico Race Course with an illegal drug in their systems.

Trainers Jerry Robb and Mark Shuman had been suspended for 60 days and 40 days, respectively, after three of Robb's horses and two of Shuman's horses tested positive for Guanabenz within a six-day period in April. Guanabenz is a banned substance that reduces hypertension and can enhance the performance of racehorses.

Robb and Shuman appealed the suspensions to the racing commission. The four commissioners who heard the appeal Sept. 23 reduced Robb's suspension to 45 days and Shuman's to 30, but then ruled each trainer would actually have to serve only a 15-day suspension. They also fined Robb $1,500, and Shuman $1,000.

Commission chairman Lou Ulman said Robb and Shuman both trained horses that won on April 13 and later tested positive for Guanabenz. Their next violations occurred April 17, 18, and 19 with one horse that won and two that finished second.

Each infraction should carry a 15-day suspension, the usual penalty, Ulman said. That added up to 45 days for Robb's three positives and 30 days for Shuman's two.

But then Ulman said the trainers could serve the suspensions concurrently, which means they would be suspended for only 15 days, during which time they would be barred from the backstretch. That was because of a delay in notifying the trainers of their initial positives, Ulman said.

The trainers weren't notified of the April 13 infractions until April 20. If they had been notified promptly, Ulman said, they would have had the opportunity to scratch the other horses.

"Justice," said Robb, a veteran trainer of more than 30 years, of the decision. "I think it's been a witch hunt for Michael Gill from the beginning."

Gill, a New Hampshire horse owner, owned four of the five horses that raced on Guanabenz. Gill, a former trainer, was suspended in 1995 in New Hampshire for a drug violation.

Subsequent trainers of his horses have been suspended for drug infractions. Through Sept. 22, Gill was the second-winningest owner in the country with 1,020 victories for earnings of more than $4 million.

Robb and Shuman said they had routinely administered Guanabenz to their horses as a way of reducing tension and the cramping of muscles during training. They said they had always ended the treatments 48 hours before a race. They no longer use the drug, they said.

John Krasnoff, the assistant attorney general who argued the case against the trainers, said that the three stewards, the ruling authorities at the track, considered the positives "very serious infractions" that affected the outcome of five races. Racing authorities in other states had handed down suspensions for Guanabenz positives ranging from 30 days in New York to 120 days in Iowa.