Updated on 08/14/2014 3:30PM

Sheppard fined after two horses test positive for methocarbamol

Email

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard has been fined $2,000 and assigned one point under Delaware’s multiple medication violation system for two separate positives for the muscle relaxant methocarbamol at Delaware Park this summer, according to stewards’ rulings.

Two $1,000 fines were levied July 30 after samples from two horses who finished first in races at Delaware tested positive for the drug, which is allowed to be administered up to 72 hours prior to a race in Delaware as one of 26 recognized therapeutic medications in the state. Both horses – Another Surprise, who finished first in a $20,000 maiden-claiming race May 28, and Comancheria, who won a $20,000 maiden-claiming race June 9 – were disqualified, and purse money was redistributed.

Sheppard waived his right to have a split sample tested, according to the records. The stewards cited “mitigating circumstances” for declining to assign a second point for the Comancheria positive, according to the records. Delaware is one of the first states to implement the points-based multiple violation system, which applies higher penalties to trainers if they exceed certain points thresholds in a year.

John Wayne, the executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, said Sheppard was not assigned additional points for the second positive because he was notified of both positives at the same time. Commissions have often waived additional penalties for trainers when notified of multiple positives under the theory that the trainer was unable to correct any barn practices that may have led to the first positive.

Wayne also said that Sheppard’s positives were not likely to be related to an unanticipated effect of using the drug in combination with phenylbutazone, or bute, a regulated painkiller. Earlier this spring and summer, regulators in Pennsylvania and Delaware began issuing warnings to trainers to be cautious when using the two drugs in combination, under the belief that methocarbamol was eliminated more slowly from a horse’s system when used with bute. The warning said trainers should use methocarbamol no closer than 96 hours to a race if they planned to also administer bute within that time frame.

Alan Foreman, who represented Sheppard in his stewards' hearing, said Sheppard believed a stable employee had mistakenly administered the drug to one of the horses within or close to the withdrawal time of 72 hours. The other horse had come off of Sheppard's farm, and Sheppard did not know how the drug turned up, Foreman said.

Foreman said Sheppard regularly administers methocarbarmol to horses after workouts or gate work to treat soreness, but that he does not administer bute, ruling out the possibility that bute interfered with the elimination of the drug.

"You accept the penalty, and you move on," Foreman said.

Sheppard trains for one of the most outspoken critics of medication in racing, George Strawbridge. Sheppard also was fined for a methocarbamol positive last year at Parx Racing near Philadelphia. Another Surprise is owned by Sheppard, while Comancheria is owned by Elizabeth Barr.