11/19/2014 5:22PM

Indiana Grand stewards suspend assistant trainer for 60 days

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The stewards of Indiana Grand Race Course in Shelbyville, Ind., have suspended an assistant trainer for allegedly having a horse injected on raceday, citing an incident that also is part of an aggressive effort by the state racing commission to ban a veterinarian for 20 years.

The stewards released the ruling Wednesday morning, approximately three weeks after conducting a hearing into the incident. Under the ruling, Richard Estvanko, the assistant trainer who was at Indiana Grand the day the horse allegedly was treated, was suspended 60 days, and his employer, the Chicago-based trainer Anthony Granitz, was fined $2,000.

The ruling by the stewards upholds the testimony of a single witness, a barn security employee of the track. The employee, Jamie Kolls, alleged that she encountered Ross Russell, a veterinarian at the track, within the stall of a horse entered to race Sept. 19, but she did not report the encounter until a day later. The horse, Tam Tuff, ran the night of Sept. 19, finishing third.

Both Russell and Estvanko were summarily banned after Kolls filed a report on the incident Sept. 20. The ruling issued Wednesday gives Estvanko credit for the days he was banned from the track, so the 60-day suspension already has been served. Tam Tuff was disqualified from the race. 

The incident has been cited in an eight-count administrative complaint filed Oct. 23 by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission against the veterinarian who allegedly administered the shot, Russell. In addition to the incident in the stall, the complaint alleges Russell dispensed illegal drugs to trainers, falsified vet records, and lied to investigators. The 20-year penalty recommended in the complaint is unprecedented.

A full account of the incident and the allegations against Russell can be found here.

The stewards’ ruling issued Wednesday notes that Russell, his employees, and other barn workers have said the encounter with Kolls did not take place where she said it occurred. Instead, those people have testified the encounter took place in an adjacent barn at the stall of a horse trained by Kim Hammond that was not entered to race that day.

The stewards’ ruling states they gave more weight to Kolls’ testimony than the other people who testified. Kolls had worked at Indiana Grand for two months at the time of the incident, and she has acknowledged in depositions that she received no training for her job. She also said she made no note of the encounter at the time it happened.

“Both parties presented contradictory evidence, but ultimately, the eye witness account of Ms. Kolls, a disinterested employee of Indiana Grand Race Course, outweighed the testimony offered by Dr. Russell and his personal and business associates,” the stewards wrote.

The ruling states that Kolls testified she saw Russell administer at least one shot of a “yellowish-tinted liquid” to the horse in the stall. The ruling further states that “IHRC staff established by a preponderance of evidence that Dr. Ross Russell was in the stall” of Tam Tuff and had injected the horse with a substance other than Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication that is the only legal raceday medication in Indiana.

Tam Tuff was tested after the Sept. 19 race. The sample was negative for any prohibited substances.

Granitz said Wednesday that he plans to appeal the ruling. He has claimed that he never asked Russell to treat Tam Tuff and that he believes the account of his assistant trainer and Russell’s associates.

The ruling was released the same day that Indiana Horse Racing Commission released records showing the commission issued 34 penalties for medication infractions from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31. The records confirm that medication positives at the state’s two tracks spiked this summer and fall after the state adopted stricter rules governing the use of therapeutic medications. Last year, during the same time frame, the racing commission issued only three penalties for medication infractions, according to last year’s records.

The 34 rulings were issued for positive drug tests in Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Quarter Horses. The rulings involved 16 Standardbred horses, 11 Thoroughbred horses, and seven Quarter Horses.

Although the racing commission in the past has regularly updated its website with new rulings, the commission had not posted any rulings since July 31 of this year because of a backlog of tests at its testing laboratory and the sheer number of the rulings. Some owners and trainers in Indiana, including Maggi Moss, had been critical of the commission’s delay in making the rulings public.

The most severe penalties were handed out to a Thoroughbred trainer, Rhonda Gabberd, and a Quarter Horse trainer, Edward Scott, who were suspended 60 days each. One of Gabberd’s horses tested positive for cannabinoids, the chemical compounds in marijuana plants, and one of Scott’s horses tested positive for clenbuterol, the bronchial dilator that has become much more strictly regulated under the new drug rules.

Though the racing commission passed an emergency rule effective Sept. 30 establishing a threshold level of 25 parts per billion for cobalt, the records released Wednesday do not show any penalties for positives for the mineral, which is rumored to be in use in racing as a crude blood-doping agent. Earlier this year, prior to establishing the threshold level, the commission tested 354 post-race samples from all three breeds racing in Indiana for the mineral, and it said it found 21 of the samples had concentrations in excess of 25 ppb.

Many of the Thoroughbred positives were for corticosteroids that are more tightly regulated under the new rules. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs.

In Standardbreds, the majority of the positives were for the banned antihistamine tripelennamine. Indiana already had called a number of positives for the same drug earlier this year prior to releasing the records Wednesday.