Analysis: Rule-Breaking Costs Other Horsemen

When a horse tests positive for an illegal substance in a race, the sport's reputation endures another hit, bettors are soured, and potential new fans shy away from the sport. But one affected group that's not always talked about is other trainers, where the impact can be especially acute.

An examination of 16 horses trained by Kirk Ziadie involved in 18 clenbuterol positives (two twice tested positive) in Florida in 2012 and 2013, points to the negative impact on horsemen who compete against a trainer breaking the rules. While Ziadie watched his horses win and place in those 18 races, other trainers saw their horses finish behind those rivals, losing out on potential purse money. 

Also horsemen who claimed the Ziadie horses may have paid inflated values in picking up Thoroughbreds who may have owed some of their success to racing on clenbuterol. In the 18 positives for Ziadie, 11 times the horses won and they placed in the other seven starts.

A review of races involving the 16 Ziadie-trained horses who tested positive for clenbuterol in Florida in 2012-2013 that led to the six-year suspension recommendation reveals how much other horsemen were impacted. In those 18 starts, the Ziadie-trained horses earned $154,275 in purse money. While those 18 races represent just 3.5% of the horses' racing careers (through 2015), the purses earned in those 18 events represent 10.2% of their career earnings.

Largely because of those 18 clenbuterol positives, as well as some drug positives before them, a Florida administrative judge in December recommended Ziadie receive a six-year suspension and be fined $18,000, a recommendation that, if followed, could end an otherwise prosperous run for the trainer who ranked 40th in wins in 2013 and in 2015 was on pace to see his starters earn $1 million in purses.

As an effective bronchodilator, clenbuterol has been allowed as a therapeutic medication in racing but because of its potential to improve performance through its anabolic effects when abused, it carries Class B penalty status (second-most severe) on the Association of Racing Commissioners' Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances and Recommended Penalties. 

Florida's racing regulator, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW), is expected to consider in the first quarter of 2016 the recommendation of the six-year suspension by Florida administrative law judge F. Scott Boyd.

Still, two trainers who claimed Ziadie horses that tested positive for clenbuterol offer little criticism of the embattled trainer.

Trainer Tom Schell claimed Sole Runner for $8,000 for owner JMS Investments from Ziadie and owner Frank Carl Calabrese out of a Sept. 14, 2012 race at Calder Race Course. Sole Runner won that race, picking up a winning purse of $7,250, while improving his record for Ziadie to 2-0-2 and $18,865 in earnings in five starts for the trainer. 

But in seven starts for his new connections, which would be the final seven of his career, Sole Runner failed to win another race and earned a total of $5,845. The post-race test after the Sept. 14 race, from which Schell claimed Sole Runner, came back positive for clenbuterol. But Schell said he doesn't feel like a victim in making that claim.

"You have to remember that in the claiming game, a lot of times you're buying damaged goods," Schell said. "What one person does with a horse and how it affects another person? Can I blame anybody for him never winning? You can't blame anybody."

Owner-trainer Barry Croft claimed Entrada from Ziadie in October 2013 with the intention of adding her as a broodmare. He started her one more time at a higher class level then retired her. While racing out of Ziadie's stable, Entrada tested positive for clenbuterol after two different races, winning one and running second in the other while earning $12,400 in those two starts.

"Kirk's a good trainer, there ain't no doubt about it," Croft said. "Unfortunately, he got a load of positives."

Former Indiana Horse Racing Commission executive director Joe Gorajec said it's rare to have one horseman report concerns about the practices of another trainer.

"There is a code of silence that permeates the backside of every race track. In this subculture, cooperating with authority is taboo," Gorajec said. "It's a way of losing face with your peers. Also, there is a palpable fear that bad things happen to "snitches," like an unexplained positive test."

But one trainer who later conditioned one of the Ziadie horses who tested positive for clenbuterol, said he didn't want to comment on the record about the Ziadie clenbuterol positives because he feared the track and owners may view him as a troublemaker, potentially costing him stalls or horses. 

Federal legislation introduced last year proposes moving medication oversight from state regulators to a new authority guided by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart believes his organization would be better-positioned to foster cooperation with horsemen who fear such backlash. 

Tygart noted state stewards' and regulators' positions often are populated by past or current participants, which may discourage horsemen from reporting wrongdoing for fear of reprisal. 

"People are reluctant to go to the people that control it and say bad things about their competitors because they don't know when that's going to come back to hurt them," Tygart said, noting that commissioners may be active participants in the state that's being regulated. "So you have to remove those influences from the investigative aspect."

In a panel at the 2015 Global Symposium on Racing and Gaming in December, former Kentucky Horse Racing Commission executive director Lisa Underwood said that it's a huge help when honest horsemen report potential violations. 

"Cheating hurts participants who are following rules, bettors who lose out on the result, and hurts the industry's reputation," Underwood said.

But that communication needs to be a two-way street, noted Kent Stirling, who served as Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director from 1995-2015. At the beginning of 2013, Florida moved to confirmation testing for clenbuterol in urine rather than in serum and changed its confirmation level for clenbuterol in urine. 

Stirling said Jan. 14 that the 2013 changes were not communicated to Florida horsemen. In his findings, Judge Boyd noted the regulator did not give notification to horsemen or veterinarians of the changes. In the first half of 2013, there were 154 clenbuterol positives at Florida racetracks.

Stirling believes the Florida regulator's lack of communication with horsemen on such matters doesn't encourage cooperation.

"In Florida, we have a Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering that really doesn't understand racing. They just don't understand it," Stirling said. "They play the 'gotcha game,' and don't even know they're doing it. They don't reach out at all."

In the Boyd decision, DPMW chief operating officer Jill Blackman said clenbuterol is not permitted at any level on race day and it is the trainers' responsibility, in conjunction with their veterinarians, to decide whether to administer a particular medication at all. She said it's not in the best interest of the horses or the division to make announcements every time they are able to detect a new or existing drug at a lower level.

As for Ziadie's case, it includes positives before the changes in testing as well as positives after Stirling informed horsemen May 29, 2013 of a new recommendation of a 14-day withdrawal time. Judge Boyd would note that at least six of his 13 clenbuterol positives in 2013 followed the advisory to move to 14 days. 

Before Florida made any changes to its clenbuterol testing, Ziadie had five clenbuterol positives from July 4-Sept. 27, 2012: I Can and I Will, Fives and Nines, He's Spectacular, Sole Runner, and Ari's Pride. All four of those horses won the races involved. At least six more Ziadie clenbuterol positives came after Stirling's recommendation to move to a 14-day withdrawal time. In testimony, Ziadie said he chose not to change to the new, longer withdrawal time.

"I was still stuck on the five days, your honor," Ziadie said. "I was stubborn. I know I did wrong. I know that there was a rumor and I know there was a brochure going around--14 days--but I was trying to do the best for my horses.

"I thought that if was the medication that they needed at the time when we were racing and I take blame for being stubborn and making a mistake, but I did keep it at five days."

That decision proved costly for Ziadie in Boyd's final recommendation. Boyd noted the mitigating circumstances resulting from Florida's testing procedure changes, but added that no such mitigation is needed for the six positives from June 25 through Oct. 27. (There also was a June 8 positive that Boyd did not count, apparently allowing some time for adjustment to 14 days.)

"Respondent was fully on notice beginning May 29, 2013 that the testing level had been changed and that Mr. Stirling had recommended a 14-day withdrawal time for at least the six races occurring from June 25-Oct. 27, 2013," Boyd said. 

Mid-Atlantic based trainer Glenn Thompson, an outspoken advocate of drug-free racing, said it's rare that another trainer will point a finger at suspected cheating. He said a few years ago, many times, it was a case that many trainers were breaking rules or pushing the envelope and they didn't want to draw attention to themselves.

"A trainer with a glass house will have a difficult time throwing a stone at another cheating trainer due to the fear that his house might come under scrutiny," Thompson said.

In making his final recommendation, Boyd noted 14 prior Ziadie drug violations, the impact of his offenses on the pari-mutuel industry, the danger to the public and/or racing animals, the number of offenses, and other factors in his ultimate call for a six-year suspension.

Thompson said in just the past couple of years, he believes cheating has been dramatically reduced. He thinks the National Uniform Medication Program's multiple medication violations provision that aims to add more severe penalties to trainers is making an impact.

"The days of trainers having 40 positive tests are over," Thompson said. "I think owners and trainers are starting to understand that if we don't clean up racing, we are going to kill something we all love and care deeply for."

Positive clenbuterol tests in Ziadie case
Date Horse Race result Purse earned

7/4/2012 I Can and I Will 3rd $1,200
8/17/2012 Fives and Nines 1st $6,000
8/30/2012 He's Spectacular 1st $6,350
9/14/2012 Sole Runner 1st $7,250
9/27/2012 Ari's Pride 1st $10,100
3/13/2013 Dreaming of Lucy 2nd $9,135
4/26/2013 Monty's Tune 3rd $1,205
5/10/2013 Starship Luna 3rd $1,155
5/24/2013 Centaur Man 1st $10,100
5/26/2013 Entrada 2nd $2,100
6/8/2013 Dreaming of Sophia 2nd $13,000
6/9/2013 Sir Edgar 1st $7,250
6/25/2013 Musical Flair 1st $20,200
7/1/2013 Entrada 1st $10,300
7/19/2013 Commence Firing 1st $17,100
8/3/2013 Black Karma 1st $10,900
10/12/2013 Black Karma 1st $14,530
10/27/2013 Distinctive Move 1st $6,400