07/31/2014 5:22PM

Del Mar owners scratch horse as protest


Owners David Frankham and Brian Carmody withdrew Smogcutter from Thursday’s first race at Del Mar to protest the presence of a rival horse that tested positive for a sedative in March, but whose trainer, A.C. Avila, has yet to be sanctioned.

Smogcutter was scratched at 12:55 p.m., a few minutes before he was due to be sent to the receiving barn before the race. Horses are sent to the receiving barn before proceeding to the paddock to be saddled. Not showing up at the receiving barn before a race is a violation of California Horse Racing Board rules.

Trainer Dan Blacker said on Thursday morning that he was told by Frankham to keep Smogcutter in the barn.

“We’ll just choose not to bring him over for the race,” Blacker said. “I’m following instructions.”

The horse the connections of Smogcutter scratched to avoid running against, Masochistic, won Thursday's first race by 2 1/2 lengths over Passing Game, with minimal urging from jockey Victor Espinoza. He paid $2.80.

In a phone interview on Wednesday evening, Frankham said that he and Carmody were protesting a lack of action beyond the redistribution of the purse by the California Horse Racing Board regarding Masochistic’s positive for the tranquilizer acepromazine, found in a post-race test conducted on March 15.

In late April, Santa Anita stewards disqualified Masochistic from the purse of the March 15 race because of the positive.  Masochistic earned $1,120 for owners Los Pollos Hermanos Racing and Santa Ines Stable. In their April ruling, the stewards ordered the money forfeited and redistributed to Durango Flier, who finished sixth.

Avila is scheduled to have a hearing with an administrative law judge on Aug. 12 regarding the acepromazine positive. Avila could face a fine or suspension for the positive. But Frankham said that too much time has passed for the racing board not to have taken action.

"I have a hard time thinking this guy is still training for 4 ½ months and there have been no consequences,” Frankham said.
Avila said on Thursday that Masochistic was given a double dose of acepromazine by accident on March 12, about 72 hours before the race.

Omar Berrio rode Masochistic on March 15, and the next day the stewards conducted an informal hearing with him. The stewards were “concerned that Mr. Berrio prevented his horse from giving his best race,” according to the weekly minutes the stewards submitted to the racing board. The stewards called for a racing board investigation into the matter and a post-race test for Maschostic, which revealed the positive.

Avila said in an interview in early April that Masochistic is a difficult horse to ride, and that the intention was for Berrio to preserve his mount to the stretch before asking for an effort. Masochistic was beaten 4 1/4 lengths at 8-1. The race was won by 4-5 favorite Whine for Wine.

Avila said Masochistic was plagued by knee and tibia injuries as a young horse, which postponed the start of his career. Thursday, Avila said that Masochistic was given the sedative because the horse has a tendency to try to bite stable staff.

Following his March 15 race, Masochistic was sent to Churchill Downs where he won a maiden race by 14 lengths as the 2-1 favorite early on Kentucky Derby Day.

Del Mar stewards said on Thursday that the scratch of Smogcutter would be referred to the racing board’s investigators for a possible complaint.

If a complaint is filed, a hearing could be held, which could result in a penalty against the owners or Blacker.

Frankham, who became a racehorse owner in 2013, said he is willing to accept a penalty for not letting Smogcutter race on Thursday.

"I think we'll have to go in a hearing," he said. "In principle, I'm okay with that.

"I've decided this is the worst part of the sport. It's a hard step. If someone doesn't say anything, it will go on. I see this as an attack on the bettors. It's defrauding of the trust. We don't feel comfortable being in the field. It's a tough decision to come to.”

Frankham, 44, is a Los Angeles-based film director and producer, with credits in commercials and the HBO series "Witness."