Trainer Don Rice, who has topped the Tampa Bay Downs trainer standings six times, has been suspended 30 days and denied access to the grounds of the Florida racetrack for the same period because two of his horses tested positive for "milkshakes" in the past week.
Rice is the first trainer to have horses test positive since Tampa Bay Downs began testing for alkaline agents using total carbon dioxide (TCO2) testing in January. The names of the horses weren't provided in a Feb. 6 release from the track.
"We were concerned with the possibility of 'milkshaking' within the racing community," Tampa Bay vice president and general manager Peter Berube said in a statement. "We implemented the testing so we could set forth a level playing field for the horsemen and the wagering public, and a safe environment for the competing horses and the overall integrity of the sport."
Rice "cooperated fully," Berube said. "He has taken all of his and his wife's horses' home to Ocala, and transferred his owners' horses to (assistant Leselane Pompell, wife of Tampa-based jockey Tommy Pompell)."
The presence of more than 37 millimoles of alkaline agents per liter of plasma indicates a horse received a milkshake, the practice of giving a horse approximately 500 grams of sodium bicarbonate, glucose, and other additives. The substance can enhance performance by delaying the onset of fatigue or mask other illegal drugs in the equine system, officials have said.
Tampa Bay Downs sends the samples takes from a randomly selected race each day to Bay Care Laboratory of Clearwater, Fla., with split samples sent to On Track Laboratory in Pompano Beach, Fla., and/or the University of Ohio Racing Laboratory and the University of California Testing Laboratory.
Under the Tampa Bay policy, the first positive for a milkshake requires a trainer's horses to be put under surveillance at the trainers' expense for 30 days. For a second offense, the trainer is denied privileges of the grounds, and his or her license is suspended for 30 days. For a third offense, a trainer is suspended for six months and denied privileges of the grounds.
In Rice's case, the two tests came back positive concurrently within 24 hours, which therefore put the second penalty immediately into effect. Test results on a third sample are pending, track officials said.
Rice had a meet record of 52 starts, with two wins, three seconds, and one third through Jan. 23. In his next 20 starts, he had four wins, three seconds, and three thirds. At the time of his suspension, Rice's horses had earned $87,480 in purses.
The Tampa Bay Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association supports the milkshake testing but track officials said they aren't permitted to fine trainers or redistribute purse money even if trainers are suspended and denied access to the grounds.