10/29/2008 11:00PM

Biancone poised to return from one-year ban

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Patrick Biancone, the controversial trainer who was suspended for one year by Kentucky authorities when cobra venom was found in one of his barn offices, is looking to return to training as early as Saturday, when his suspension has elapsed, although a top official with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said Thursday that Biancone must first appear before a licensing review panel before being restored to good standing.

Lisa Underwood, executive director of the Kentucky commission, said she is unsure how quickly the licensing process could be expedited "since Mr. Biancone has not contacted us to notify us of his intentions."

Biancone said by phone this week that he was unable to comment on his return other than to confirm that he would be willing to talk when allowed back.

Biancone, 56, has been barred from training since November 1, 2007, after he came to a legal settlement with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (known then as the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority) pertaining to his role in the cobra venom case. Biancone will initially return to training at Hurricane Hall, a Lexington, Ky., farm where he purchased about 120 acres last summer with his longtime business associate and client, Fabien Ouaki of Fab Oak Farm. Both Biancone and Ouaki are from France.

Underwood said Biancone could resume training at Hurricane Hall beginning Saturday "since it's not a licensed facility."

The names and number of horses that Biancone will train is unclear, as is his ultimate racetrack destination, although several sources close to Biancone who asked not be named said they believe he will seek to race in Southern California for the winter. Among the stakes-caliber horses that were active for a wide variety of trainers in 2008 after being trained by Biancone last year were Nownownow, Storybook, Good Mood, Trick's Pic, Lady of Venice, Baroness Thatcher, Slew's Tiznow, Cosmonaut, Itsawonderfullife, Mauralakana, and Stream Cat.

Rusty Arnold, who trained Stream Cat this year for a partnership that includes Fab Oak, said Wednesday that the gelding has been sent to Hurricane Hall to be turned over to Biancone.

One longtime Biancone client, Martin Schwartz, said Thursday from Florida that he "has not yet discussed" the subject of whether he will return his horses to Biancone.

The Biancone case began June 22, 2007, when Kentucky racing authorities raided the barns where his horses were housed at Keeneland. Three containers of cobra venom, an unregulated neurotoxin used as a powerful painkiller, were found during the raid.

Following a lengthy series of legal proceedings, Biancone agreed to serve a six-month suspension from training anywhere, with various stipulations, while also agreeing not to seek a trainer's license for another six months while being allowed to train horses away from the racetrack on private property. Biancone issued a press release after settling with the commission that essentially said he was innocent.

In April, the commission alleged that Biancone had violated terms of the agreement, sparking another round of legal wrangling, with the two sides ultimately agreeing in late August to an extension of the suspension through Oct. 31. In that agreement, Biancone did not admit to violating the terms of his initial suspension while nonetheless accepting the extension.

Before the cobra venom incident, Biancone had been enjoying a tremendous resurgence in a training career that dates to the 1980s in France, where he won two runnings of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and trained All Along, the 1983 Horse of the year in North America. Biancone won training titles at Keeneland at the 2006 fall and 2007 spring meets, and his stable earned an average of more than $4 million per year from 2004 to 2007.

The latest round of legal trouble is not the first for Biancone. He left France in the late 1980s under vague circumstances, and he left Hong Kong in 1999 after being suspended for 10 months after his horses allegedly tested positive for banned substances.

Dr. Rodney Stewart, the Australian veterinarian who was suspended for five years for his role in the 2007 cobra venom case, was scheduled to have an appeals hearing Friday in Lexington.