12/02/2015 4:08PM

Indiana veterinarian banned for nine years


The Indiana Horse Racing Commission and a veterinarian charged last year with multiple violations of the state’s racing law have reached a settlement agreement that will ban the veterinarian for nine years from the racing industry, according to a copy of the settlement agreement.

The veterinarian, Ross Russell, has been banned from Indiana tracks since September of last year, when a track security official at Indiana Grand claimed to have found Russell and members of his veterinary staff in the stall of a horse entered to race that day. Under the agreement, which must be approved by the full racing commission before it can go into effect, Russell’s nine-year ban will be retroactive to the date of his suspension and run through Sept. 20, 2023. In addition, Russell will be prohibited from seeking a racing license in Indiana for an additional three years.

The IHRC had recommended that Russell receive a 20-year ban in a report detailing his transgressions last year. In addition to the allegation of treating a specific horse on raceday, the report stated that Russell had distributed substances to trainers to administer on raceday; that he had altered billing statements; that he had provided loaded syringes to trainers; and that he had administered high concentrations of the mineral cobalt to horses despite knowing that the administrations were dangerous.

Reached on Wednesday in Florida, where he has been practicing equine veterinary care on farms, Russell said that he accepted the settlement because, “I’ve run out of money.” He added that he stood by earlier statements in which he claimed that the most serious charges levied by the commission – including the allegation that he treated a horse on raceday – were false.

“I can’t keep going through litigation,” Russell said. “It’s too costly. It’s really expensive to keep fighting this. I’m ready to move on and put this whole thing behind me.”

Since the IHRC report on Russell was released, the racing commission and the Quarter Horse trainer Ron Raper reached an agreement in which Raper accepted a four-year suspension for the illegal raceday administration of a medication. Raper provided testimony for the IHRC as it investigated Russell, claiming that the veterinarian sold him at least 30 doses of a naturally occurring substance that he administered on raceday to his horses.

Russell persistently claimed that the security official who alleged that he was in a horse’s stall on raceday had been in error. While he acknowledged that the security official encountered him and his team that day, he had said he was in a barn adjacent to the one where the official alleged the incident to have taken place. His version of the story was backed up by stable staff and other people on the backside.

But Russell, 32, had also acknowledged other charges in the report, even as he continued to refute some of the most damaging, blaming a disgruntled former employee and sloppy paperwork. He is the son of a trainer and had been practicing for five years in Indiana prior to being suspended.

[A detailed look at the IHRC case against Russell can be found here.]

The settlement states that the IHRC will make a recommendation to the Indiana Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners “that it take no disciplinary action relative to Dr. Russell’s veterinary license with respect to the violations” contained in the settlement. In many cases, violations of racing rules are not necessarily violations of veterinary rules, especially when considering the sport’s strict rules on the administration of substances on raceday.

Still, under a system of reciprocity between racing regulators, state racing commissions across the U.S. will almost certainly honor Indiana’s nine-year ban of the veterinarian and its three-year prohibition on applying for a license, meaning Russell will be unable to practice on a racetrack or training facility until late in 2026, if ever again.

Russell said that he had acquired his certification for equine chiropractic care since he was suspended, and that he plans to continue to treat horses, though not in any racetrack settings. “That’s what the [veterinary license] stipulation is in the settlement for,” Russell said. “It’s there so that I can keep doing what I’m doing.”

The Russell investigation was conducted under the supervision of executive director Joe Gorajec, who was fired earlier this year after refusing to resign under pressure from racing interests in the state. The chairman of the commission said at the time that Gorajec was “too focused on enforcing regulations and not focused enough on marketing and promoting horse racing within the state.”

The Russell settlement agreement is signed by Deena Pitman, who was made interim executive director after Gorajec was fired. Pitman was Gorajec’s assistant.