Morphine Charges a Deja Vu for Frankel

For the second time in five years, Hall of Fame and Eclipse Award-winning trainer Robert Frankel is fighting charges levied by the California Horse Racing Board after morphine was detected in post-race tests of horses he trains.

The CHRB charged Frankel on Sept. 23 after Truesdail Laboratory detected morphine in Amerman Racing Stable's Starmaniac, winner of a claiming race at Hollywood Park on June 10, and Flaxman Holdings' Mojave Moon, third-place finisher of the Californian Stakes (gr. II) at the Inglewood, Calif., track on June 11. Frankel was in New York for the Belmont Stakes at the time of both races. The presence of the drug was subsequently confirmed in a split sample examined by the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory. Purses won by both horses were ordered redistributed by the CHRB.

Frankel, the leading trainer in North America with earnings of $8,747,411 through Sept. 17, was exonerated of a similar charge in 1996 when Juddmonte Farm's Nimble Mind tested positive for morphine. In fighting that charge, Frankel and attorneys Darrell Vienna and Shauna Weeks were able to prove -- after a test was conducted at the University of California-Davis -- that morphine positives can result from the ingestion of poppy seeds. However, the ruling redistributing the purse was not reversed.

Bob Baffert, a three-time Eclipse Award winner, is facing a similar battle after a horse he trains tested positive for morphine in May. Frankel, like Baffert, blames accidental contamination for the positive test and pointed to the minuscule amounts of morphine detected.

"One horse had 19 nanograms and the other 95," Frankel said. (A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram.) "I was told that when an airline pilot flies a plane, up to 350 nanograms is considered legal. I just don't understand what the hell is going on. If I'm giving something like morphine to these horses, then I'm either a real (expletive) moron or I need to be committed."

Frankel has retained attorney Neil Papiano, who also is representing Baffert. Frankel said CHRB charges against a third trainer with a morphine positive soon will be made public.

"What is the story here in California?" Frankel said. "First they had all those false cocaine positives against Wayne Lukas and Laz Barrera. Then scopolamine, where they charged people like Dick Mandella and Willard Proctor, then caffeine positives, and now this. I think that's what killed Barrera -- having to fight those charges."