11/26/2014 11:57AM

Indiana commission seeks 3-year ban for trainer Norris

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The Indiana Horse Racing Commission is seeking to suspend a trainer for three years after post-race tests on five horses who raced this summer at Indiana Grand tested positive for a concentration of a painkiller that was indicative of the drug being administered on race day, according to a complaint prepared by the commission.

The trainer named in the complaint, Mike Norris, was summarily suspended by Indiana Grand stewards on Aug. 26, after tests of samples pulled from five of his horses indicated illegal concentrations of hydrocortisone succinate, the name for the medicinal form of the naturally occurring steroid hormone cortisol, which is released in the body in response to pain and stress.

The post-race samples were pulled from horses who ran at Indiana Grand under Norris’s name from May 28 to June 20, according to the complaint.

In a report accompanying the complaint from the commission’s drug-testing laboratory, Dr. Rick Sams, the head of the LGC Sciences lab in Lexington, Ky., said that all five of the samples tested for a higher concentration than 250 picograms per milliliter of blood, indicating that the substance was administered within 24 hours of the samples being pulled. Two of the samples had a concentration in excess of 2,500 picograms per milliliter, the lab report said.

All of the horses who tested positive have been disqualified, the report said, with purses from the races redistributed.

Like all other drugs other than the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, hydrocortisone succinate is illegal to administer on race day in Indiana. The drug also is not on the list of the 24 medications that are allowed to be administered to racehorses in Indiana under therapeutic guidelines, meaning any post-race finding is a violation of the state’s racing rules. 

The complaint against Norris is tied in part to Ross Russell, a veterinarian who was suspended by Indiana Grand stewards indefinitely on Sept. 20 after a security employee of the track claimed in a report to have found Russell in the stall of a horse on race day. Russell and a handful of his associates have vociferously denied the allegation, claiming instead that the security employee encountered the vet and his team at the stall of a horse who was not entered to race that day.

In a separate complaint the IHRC released on Oct. 23 that recommends a 20-year suspension for Russell, the veterinarian’s former assistant, Libby Rees, claimed to have left loaded syringes for Norris, in some cases with instructions to administer the substances to horses on race day, Rees has testified.

Rees and Russell parted ways in mid-August, one week prior to Norris being suspended. After Rees left Russell’s practice, she began cooperating with the IHRC in its investigation of horsemen on the Indiana Grand backstretch.

As in the case of Russell, Norris is not being accused by the IHRC of administering powerful drugs to horses. Hydrocortisone succinate is a Class 4 medication, with recognized therapeutic properties that can nonetheless have a minor impact on performance, largely by reducing pain or inflammation.

The IHRC has begun to crack down aggressively on alleged violations on Indiana backstretches, especially when they involve the administration of substances on race day to horses, regardless of whether the substances are efficacious or not. While new penalty guidelines approved by the IHRC this year would recommend a six-month suspension for the finding of five positives of a Class 4 substance, the push for a three-year ban recognizes that the medications were allegedly administered by Norris on race day, creating exacerbating circumstances.

The complaint against Norris also recommends a $15,000 fine.