Updated on 04/01/2016 3:33PM

Florida increasingly fining trainers at Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream


Regulators in Florida have recently begun handing down dozens of sanctions to trainers at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park for violations pertaining to the use of medications on a controlled-substance list, according to horsemen in the state and an attorney who plans to represent the Tampa trainers.

The violations, which have included fines and, in some cases, suspensions, all stem from prohibited levels of therapeutic medications, including commonly used medications like phenylbutazone, ketoprofen, and flunixin, three painkillers that are prohibited on race day but can be used in the days leading up to a race, the officials said.

The violations have occurred in the wake of Florida enforcing new regulations at the start of this year that are modeled on uniform rules developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry group. The rules allow for the regulated use of more than two dozen therapeutic medications, and in Florida, they replaced relatively liberal regulations regarding drug administrations.

The rules also include a new regulation designed to prevent trainers from using multiple painkillers at low doses that would achieve the same pharmacological effect as a single painkiller at a large dose, a technique referred to as “stacking.”

Frank Miranda, a Tampa attorney, met with trainers at Tampa Bay Downs on Thursday to discuss the sanctions. He said a group of 10 trainers has told him that they will appeal the sanctions under his representation, and that he plans to do a “complete investigation” of the positive tests, including a review of the threshold levels established by the RMTC and the state’s drug sampling and testing protocols.

“For horsemen, this is just a guessing game,” he said.

Bill White, the president of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said on Friday that five trainers at Gulfstream had been issued sanctions in the past three days for therapeutic medication violations. He said the violations were for “routine, common medications” that are now more tightly regulated under the new rules.

“The problem is that the rules have changed, but the trainers and the veterinarians have not been given the opportunity to adjust their medications,” White said. “Everyone is having to learn by trial and error.”

White acknowledged that trainers at Gulfstream were given guidance at the beginning of the year about the new rules. But he said the division had erred by not allowing trainers a grace period to adjust, as it had in the past with other rule changes.

“These are not the bad guys,” White said. “It’s guys that are trying to do it the right way, it’s guys that have not been given the time or guidance to do it the right way.”

Jonathan Zachem, the executive director of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, said on Friday afternoon that the division had hosted workshops for horsemen on the new rules twice in 2015 and had also held a hearing in December related to the new regulations.

“I’ve been surprised” by the number of violations, Zachem said. “Horsemen participated in the rule-making process all last year. They were there every step of the way. This shouldn’t be a surprise to them. You would have to ask horsemen why they are having such a problem with the new rules.”

Robert Smith, a trainer at Tampa Bay Downs, said he was issued a $750 fine by the division after a horse he trained tested over the anti-stacking thresholds for both phenylbutazone and flunixin. He said that prior to being fined, he routinely administered flunixin at 50 hours before a race and then phenylbutazone at 30 hours prior, but that the administrations had not drawn violations in the past.

The recommended withdrawal time for a regulated dose of flunixin is 32 hours. The withdrawal time for a regulated dose of phenylbutazone is 24 hours. Under the new anti-stacking rules, the two drugs have two thresholds, one pertaining to a finding of a single drug and another lower threshold that is used when another painkiller is found in the same sample.

When told by a reporter that Florida put new rules in place in January that pertained to the use of multiple painkillers, Smith said he had not been made aware by regulators, veterinarians, or other horsemen that he should review or change the medication regimen for his horses.

“We have been treating horses the same way for the past three years,” Smith said. “I’ve never drawn a violation in the past for it.”