By Frank Angst and Claire Novak
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has suspended Graham Motion for five days and fined the trainer $500 for a medication overage Bewitch Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Kitten's Point. Motion has appealed the ruling.
An Oct. 3 decision by the Kentucky stewards, which followed a stewards' hearing, determined Kitten's Point had a methocarbamol (Robaxin) level of 2.9 nanograms per milliliter of blood when tested following her half-length victory in the Bewitch April 24 at Keeneland.
A recognized therapeutic medication, Robaxin is a muscle relaxant that Kentucky advises can be administered up to 48 hours before a race. It carries 1.0 ng/ml raceday threshold level and is listed as a Class C drug by regulators.
In a statement issued on his Herringswell Stables website, Motion said he has never had a medication violation in 23 years, which is consistent with available public records. The Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)-winning trainer believes proper research on the correct withdrawal time has not been conducted for Robaxin and the regulator mishandled the test sample. Motion appealed the decision on those two points.
"While I always realized the possibility of a violation despite the highest degree of diligence and understand the need for penalties, in these circumstances I am convinced that my staff and I followed all the required protocols and I plan to appeal the decision for a variety of reasons, all of which were presented at the stewards' hearing," said Motion, who contends that Kitten's Point was given Robaxin seven days before the race and not again.
Motion said he appealed the ruling because he conducted an internal investigation and determined his stable did everything correctly.
"While it would be easier to accept the suspension and pay the fine, I believe it's important to follow through with the appeal process," Motion said. "This case points out a disturbing problem with medication policies in general, and highlights the challenges all trainers are facing with inconsistent guidelines and inadequate protocols."
In terms of those protocols, Motion said collection areas should be improved and cameras should be added to barns.
"Do people realize where we take these samples is the outrider's tack room? That a few days before the meet we move the outriders out of the tack room (in the test barn) and it becomes the area where samples are held? That to me is pretty shocking," Motion said. "When the sensitivity has gotten to the strength it has gotten to, which I believe is a good thing, how can racetracks not be held to the same standard?
"When we're running for millions of dollars, how can any of this not be under cameras and recorded—in this day and age, with the level of technology available and the level we're testing these samples under?
"It would be a whole lot easier for me to take $500 and five days but I think we have a big problem here and as trainers in general we have a big problem on our hands."
Unless the stewards' ruling is overturned on appeal, Kitten's Point, owned by George Strawbridge Jr.'s Augustin Stable, will be disqualified from her Bewitch victory and the $90,000 winning purse will be forfeited. Runner-up Cay Dancer, owned by Highclere America and Robert Barnett, would be declared the winner.
Kentucky chief state steward Barbara Borden said she could not comment on the ruling since it is officially under appeal.