12/30/2010 2:04PM

Keeping clean record not an easy task for trainers


In a perfect world, it probably wouldn’t be unusual for a trainer like two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Graham Motion to go an entire career without being penalized for a medication violation. But a complex web of medication regulations that can ensnare the most circumspect trainer makes Motion’s unblemished record stand out.

Top trainers with strong reputations like Bill Mott and Nick Zito have been cited for medication violations, though none for drugs that are considered performance-enhancing medications with no therapeutic value, the so-called Class 1 or Class 2 drugs. In fact, 85 percent of all medication violations are for Class 5, 4, or 3 drugs, according to racing regulators, and the majority of those are simple overages as a result of careless management – not deliberate attempts to influence the result of the race.

But Motion doesn’t even have one of those violations. So how does a trainer avoid the slip-ups that seem to mar just about every trainer’s record?

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The secret, according to horsemen’s officials, regulators, and medication experts, is a combination of integrity, good management practices, patience by owners, and a dash of luck.

“Unfortunately, if you train long enough, you’re going to get dinged along the way,” said Remi Bellocq, the executive director of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, who is friendly with Motion. “There are a lot of factors that get you through without that blemish on the record.”

Trainers can end up with a medication violation in a number of ways, but broadly, the cause of a medication violation falls into several categories:

* Intentional doping with the hope that the drug isn’t detected in post-race tests.

* Contamination of post-race blood or urine sample during the collection, storage, and transportation process or through ingestion.

* Management error by the trainer, a member of the trainer’s staff, or a veterinarian.

* Ignorance of a rule or drug-testing technique that would make the administration a violation in one state but not another.

Scot Waterman, the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said that the most important trait to avoid medication violations is attention to detail and a commitment to good record keeping. That majority of medication positives are the result of carelessness in keeping track of which horses were administered which therapeutic drugs on which day, largely to keep the horse strong enough to withstand the rigors of training or fight off the myriad maladies that can affect a horse’s well-being.

“The biggest thing I think when I hear that someone has never had a positive is that he’s got really good management practices,” Waterman said. “He knows everything that is going into every horse at every time.”

While Motion trains a larger stable than in the past, he still maintains close oversight of his operation. Without personal supervision, mistakes are more common, Waterman said.

“That is the case with every other business in the world, and I can’t imagine racing being any different,” Waterman said. “If the boss isn’t around, then stuff doesn’t get done the same way.”

Ed Martin, the executive director of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella group for racing commissions in the U.S., said that trainers who have yet to get tagged for a medication violation are also probably not pushing the envelope on therapeutic medications like the popular painkillers phenylbutazone and banamine or the breathing aid clenbuterol, which are typically not authorized to be administered within at least 48 hours of a race. Still, many trainers push the limit on the recommended administration times because of pressure to get a horse with niggling pains into the starting gate.

“It’s not impossible for someone to adhere to the rules if you’re not trying to abuse the use of medication in a horse,” Martin said. Although he did not have records, Martin said he believed the majority of trainers probably had spotless records but that few received attention for their adherence to the rules. It’s the violations that pop out, especially under the microscope of an increasingly vigilant media, Martin said.

Bellocq pointed out that Motion trains high-quality horses for patient owners, which gives him the advantage of taking his time with horses for high-stakes races that are well-spaced throughout the year. That’s not the case with many other trainers, who either have cheaper horses under more pressure to earn their keep in the claiming ranks or who have owners who expect an immediate return on their investments.

“You might have a very gifted, qualified trainer, but the owner doesn’t have a lot of patience,” Bellocq said. “They want the immediate return, and they want to win at 18 percent, and if they don’t, they’re going to take the horses to another barn. That kind of environment can put a trainer under a lot of pressure to get the horse ready for a race sooner than the horse would otherwise be ready. You’ll see a lot of violations in that kind of environment.”