Florida Morphine Case Raises Zero-Tolerance Question

The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering in August filed an administrative complaint against trainer Henry Collazo, alleging that a horse he ran at Calder Race Course tested positive for a derivative of morphine. The case has again put Florida's zero-tolerance policy under scrutiny.

The 3-year-old filly Middle East finished third in the seventh race, an optional claiming/allowance event, on June 9. A few weeks afterward, Collazo said, investigators from the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering began inspecting his barn and obtaining samples of his feed without advising him of the test findings.

"They told me they were just doing random samples and assured me that I had done nothing wrong," said Collazo, who denied any wrongdoing.

Although the state's complaint indicated that the quantity of the substance was less than 10 nanograms, Florida regulations allow no tolerance for banned drugs.

"That's a recipe for disaster," said Kent Stirling, the executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association who has urged the state to drop its zero-tolerance policy. "At that level we know that it comes from the environment, and this could have come from anywhere."

Florida HBPA president Linda Mills said most states, recognizing the possibility of environmental contamination, set the threshold for morphine at between 50 and 100 nanograms.

"We want anyone who uses these drugs in the quantity that could affect the outcome of a race punished," she said. "You've got to use common sense with the quantities involved."

Collazo's was the first positive finding for a Class 1 narcotic in Florida since the state agreed to drop a complaint against trainers David Donk, Todd Pletcher, and Mark Hennig for trace amounts of cocaine found in their horses in 1999. Stirling hopes the minute amount found in Middle East, coupled with that settlement, in which the state paid the trainers' legal fees, will lead the state to take no action against Collazo.

The trainer, who faces potential penalties of a suspension and/or fine of up to $5,000, remains somewhat bewildered by the events.

"I have no clue what might have happened," Collazo said. "In this game, all you have is your reputation."