12/09/2008 12:00AM

Banned vet likely to resume practice

Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Equine veterinarian Dr. Rodney Stewart, whom the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission banned for five years for possession of cobra venom and other medications, is likely to resume his veterinary practice soon.

At a hearing in Lexington on Tuesday, attorneys for Stewart and the commission agreed that he can return to practice pending a stay of a separate suspension levied against him last year. Stewart's initial five-year suspension was stayed in September 2007 pending his appeal, but Kentucky chief state steward John Veitch added a second indefinite suspension in December 2007, citing Stewart for failing to supply documents and computers related to the case in a timely manner.

In Tuesday's hearing, commission attorney Robert Watt told administrative law judge Robert Layton that Stewart now has provided the material and Veitch will issue an order ending the indefinite suspension shortly.

Layton is expected to issue a recommendation regarding Stewart's appeal to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in February.

The Tuesday hearing was a continuation of one held Dec. 3. The hearing reconvened to hear brief testimony from one witness, commission investigator Don Kolioutas, who described his initial investigation in this case. During a June 2007 search of trainer Patrick Biancone's barn, Kolioutas discovered three vials of cobra venom, which can be used as a painkiller, as well as two other prohibited substances, carbidopa and levodopa, in a soft-sided cooler belonging to Stewart. The latter two are used to treat Parkinson's disease in humans but, like cobra venom, are Class A medications under KHRC rules. Class A medications are deemed to have "no legitimate therapeutic indication in the equine athlete," according to the KHRC's classification schedule.

According to published reports, Stewart testified at the Dec. 3 hearing that Biancone, who was suspended for a year under the absolute insurer rule, did not know the contents of the cooler. Stewart also testified that he had not known that the prohibited substances were in the bag, because his wife had packed it among other items from their refrigerator, such as vaccines, in preparation for moving. He stored the bag in Biancone's barn refrigerator, he said, to keep it cool while he went about his work in the summer heat.

Stewart's attorneys noted that the vials in the cooler were unopened and unused, and provided testimony from veterinarians regarding therapeutic use of cobra venom. But the commission's chief medical officer, Dr. Mary Scollay-Ward, and Veitch testified that the venom's nerve-blocking properties are potentially dangerous and can allow injured horses to perform.

Among the revelations emerging at the Dec. 3 hearing was Veitch's testimony that he used cobra venom on his Triple Crown campaigner Alydar in September 1978. Veitch said he used it to treat a coffin-bone injury after the colt won the Travers.

The veterinarian who recommended the cobra venom, Veitch said, was Dr. Chuck Allen, now deceased. Veitch said Allen has treated other horses with the substance, which was not well-known or subject to specific regulation at the time; it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for Lou Gehrig's disease in humans.

"I didn't know if the bone had healed, and we wanted something in the short term, so that if he was feeling it pinching, he could get [the pain] out of his mind," Veitch said in an interview after the Dec. 3 hearing. "With a lesser horse, you may have nerved him, but I didn't want to do that with a horse like Alydar."

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty