TIMONIUM, MD., JULY 11 -- The Maryland Racing Commission endorsed a plan today that will reduce the penalties for trainers whose horses fail postrace tests for so-called innocuous medications. The revised policy is to be implemented immediately at the state's thoroughbred and standardbred racetracks.
In a lengthy session, the commission also ruled that Rosecroft's judges were justified in suspending driver Phil Laframboise 10 days for failing to give sufficient effort in a race in April.
The amended medication policy came about after lengthy review by the commission-appointed medication committee, which included veterinarians, horsemen and racing officials. The revisions were facilitated by a strong increase in the number of violations for therapeutic medications in Maryland racehorses since early 1989.
The revised plan lessens the sanctions against trainers, primarily first-time offenders, whose horses are found to contain modestly excessive amounts of phenylbutazone or trace amounts of such medications as procaine and a variety of sulfa drugs.
Phenylbutazone, or Bute, is a widely used anti-inflammatory drug permissible to 2 micrograms per milliliter. (The racing commission's lab has not called an overage on horses that test below 2.6 mcg/ml to account for degradation in the testing of split samples, a policy that will change.) Under the new plan, any trainer whose horse is found to contain 2.0 to 2.59 mcg/ml will receive a warning; from 2.6 to 5.0, first-time offenders will be fined $500, with no redistribution of the purse; second offenders will be suspended 15 days and the horse's purse winnings for that race rescinded.
A $500 fine also will be assessed to any first offender whose horse tests positive for sulfa drugs, which are used to treat infection. In addition, such "innocuous" medications as procaine will produce a fine providing the commission determines it was administered more than 48 hours before noon on race day. Sanctions also were eased on the anti-inflammatory steroid methylprednisolone, assuming it is found in urine samples and not blood samples.
In the past, trainers have been suspended 15 days for most medication-related violations, even first offenses. With the new policy, each trainer begins with a clean record; the first positive test will remain on the trainer's record for one year, then be purged if there are no other infractions.
"We're not being lax with regard to medications," said Alan Foreman, attorney for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "We're being more realistic to the fact that these horses are being treated on a regular basis and therefore may show traces of these therapeutic drugs."
By a 6-1 vote, the commission voted to support Rosecroft's judges in suspending Laframboise for lack of effort in the April 12 race. Presiding judge Gary McCarthy contended that Laframboise elected to keep BH Diligence behind a tiring horse going into the stretch, although he had time and room to swing BH Diligence outside.
BH Diligence finished seventh in 1:59 2/5; in his two races surrounding that performance, McCarthy stated, the horse went no slower than 1:56 4/5, finishing second and third. He said quality of competition, track and weather conditions were virtually the same in each instance.
Hal Clagett Jr., Laframboise's attorney, contended the slower time April 12 was due to a wider trip, B H Diligence having left from the outside post. Laframboise, who has been cited for similar offenses, said BH Diligence "does not like to pass horses on the outside." In an April 1 race, however, BH Diligence rallied three-wide in the stretch, to be beaten by a head.