Tom LaMarra

Pennsylvania Trainer Suspended for Year in Neglect Case

Owner-trainer Mario Rafael Rodriguez faces tougher penalties.

The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission Bureau of Thoroughbred Horse Racing Dec. 15 strengthened the initial penalties called for by state stewards against owner-trainer Mario Rafael Rodriguez for his neglect of a horse with a broken leg at Hollywood Gaming at Penn National Race Course.

Oddly enough, Rodriguez may come under more scrutiny because, according to veterinarian Kate Papp, he had a horse die in its stall Friday. Papp helped bring to light the treatment of the horse with the broken leg, Silent Ruler.

As for the initial case, the tougher penalties call for Rodriguez to be suspended for one year beginning Dec. 26 and fined $2,500 for not acting in the best interests of racing, nor in the best interests of the health and welfare of a horse in his care, veteran runner Silent Ruler. Those sanctions override a stewards' decision that called for a 45-day suspension and $500 fine for Rodriguez.

Friday's ruling signed by Pennsylvania's Bureau of Thoroughbred Horse Racing director Tom Chuckas Jr. noted that the commission, "may investigate and review a decision of the stewards on its own motion." Chuckas strengthened the penalties after a review of the underlying factual reports, evidence, testimony received by the stewards at a Nov. 28 hearing, and the subsequent board of stewards ruling.

That review followed public outcry after Paulick Report initially reported the stewards' decision to levy just a 45-day penalty against Rodriguez for not providing proper veterinary care for Silent Ruler after the horse sustained a leg fracture.

Pennsylvania Rehoming, Rehabilitation, and Rescue (PARR), which was founded by Papp, sent out emails calling for harsher penalties for Rodriguez. In that email, veterinarian Bryan Langlois encouraged people to contact the commission before its next regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 20.

"There is no excuse to allow a horse to suffer like this one has, and the commission needs to hear from as many people and entities as possible to make sure we get our point across," Langlois said.

As for Friday's developments, Papp, who evaluated one of the lame horses discovered in Rodriguez's barn that day, does not believe the decision to strengthen the penalties was related to Friday's events. 

"One of his horses dropped dead in a stall this morning," Papp said, noting that track officials and racing commission investigators soon gathered at the barn. "They pulled out every single horse, and they were jogging every single horse. They came across three lame ones. This horse that had died had been sore for several days with supposedly a really bad run-down. It was treated at 9:30 this morning by a private veterinarian for colic and then it just dropped dead about an hour later."

While further investigation from Friday's developments may be down the road, in the Silent Ruler case, the stewards' initial decision shocked Langlois, a volunteer for Pennsylvania Rehoming, Rehabilitation and Resue.

"This complete lack of proper penalty and further apparent lack of any caring by the Pennsylvania racing commission to enforce the proper penalty of complete license revocation for this act is completely unacceptable," Langlois said in the email. "I have been attending all of the Pennsylvania commission meetings since the new commission was installed last year and have been very vocal with them during public comment about the need to provide for better care and welfare of the horses that race there. 

"This particular case has shaken many of us that are incredibly passionate and lifelong racing fans to the very core and caused me personally to make sure I do everything in my power to force the commission to rethink their decision to not take any further action on this case."

As for Silent Ruler's current well-being, Rodriguez transferred his ownership to PARR, which immediately applied a gel cast with animalintex poultice to a damaged right front fetlock and stabilized the joint with a metal Kimzey splint. The horse was made stable and comfortable enough to be shipped to PARR's Harrisburg, Pa., farm.

Radiographs of the right front revealed extensive damage that included significant soft tissue damage along with chronic joint space narrowing, and comminuted fractures of the sesamoid. He was shipped to New Jersey Equine Clinic in Millstone Township for surgery by Dr. Jennifer Smith where, thanks to a well-supported fundraising effort, arthrodesis surgery (fusion of the ankle joint) was conducted.

Papp reported Friday that Silent Ruler has made fairly steady progress in his recovery at New Jersey Equine. He also has a retirement home lined up once he recovers from his injury and surgery.