10/24/2014 12:03PM

Report recommends 20-year suspension for Indiana veterinarian

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An Indiana racetrack veterinarian who was ruled off the grounds of the state’s tracks in September should be suspended 20 years for a pattern of illegal and unethical conduct, an administrative report by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission has recommended.

The veterinarian, Ross Russell, illegally administered substances to horses on race day, altered billing statements and medical records to hide the administrations, and provided loaded hypodermic syringes to horsemen this year running at Indiana Grand racetrack, according to the report. In addition, Russell allegedly administered substances containing high concentrations of the mineral cobalt in an effort to get horses to run faster, even if the administrations were dangerous, according to the report.

Russell, who is the son of a horse trainer, was ruled off Indiana tracks when a security worker claimed to witness him injecting a horse on race day with a substance that was not furosemide, the only legal race-day medication in Indiana.

Russell said on Friday that the accusation in the September incident was “false,” but he said he would not comment further until he had spoken with his attorney.

“So far, this has been extremely one-sided,” Russell said.

Russell, who spends the winters at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, said he has not practiced in any jurisdiction since being ruled off.

An executive summary of the report states that Russell “is unfit to practice in Indiana’s highly regulated parimutuel industry,” that the veterinarian’s “ethical compass is broken,” and that he “embodies the worst stereotypes of a race track practitioner.”

The 38-page report contains descriptions of affidavits from a former employee and accounts of several Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred trainers who were interviewed by commission staff. The accounts describe Russell leaving loaded syringes or unopened bottles of medicine or supplements with the trainers. As in all other states, it is illegal for trainers to possess syringes in Indiana.

Many of the substances described in the report are products formulated by Internet pharmacies or compounders that have dubious credentials in treating horses. The products include Sarapin, a derivative of the pitcher plant with alleged pain-killing properties that has been shown in scientific studies to have no effect, and STOP, a substance purported to help in mitigating bleeding in the lungs. The commission’s report states that Russell’s billing sheets indicate he provided the substances to trainers with instructions to use on race day.

The report also alleges that Russell or his clients administered high concentrations of cobalt to horses. Earlier this year, the commission conducted testing on hundreds of post-race samples of Standardbred, Quarter Horse, and Thoroughbred horses, and it said that a “pattern began to emerge” when all six horses who tested in excess of 100 parts per billion were trained by clients of Russell’s practice, including one horse who tested at a level of 1,127 ppb.

The report states that Russell told a former assistant, Libby Rees, that cobalt “makes [a horse] run like a beast, but you only get one or two races out of them, and then they’re done.” Rees worked for Russell’s practice for five months this year, and she agreed to cooperate with the commission’s investigation. The report does not describe why Rees stopped working for Russell in mid-August.

The report acknowledges that cobalt was not regulated in Indiana at the time that Russell was allegedly administering products containing large concentrations of the mineral. Early in September, the commission passed an emergency regulation providing for an “up to one-year suspension” for any post-race finding of the mineral in excess of 25 ppb.