03/26/2003 12:00AM

Shuman cleared in 'leg' case


Florida regulatory officials exonerated trainer Mark Shuman on Wednesday after an investigation into the fatal breakdown of Casual Conflict at Gulfstream Park last month failed to reveal the presence of any banned drugs or improper treatments.

Casual Conflict, who was owned by Michael Gill, fractured his right front cannon bone about midway through the seventh race on Feb. 3 and was euthanized on the racetrack with a lethal injection. The investigation was launched after state racing employees complained that a veterinarian connected to Shuman and Gill had amputated the horse's broken right leg without proper authority shortly after the incident. Both of the horse's front legs were later sent to a lab for tests.

Joe Helton, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering's chief attorney, said on Wednesday that blood tests on Casual Conflict revealed the presence of phenylbutazone, a legal painkiller, and the two drugs used to euthanize the horse. An examination of tissue and bones in the legs also showed nothing illegal, Helton said, although the exams were compromised by the poor condition of the leg.

Shuman and Gill set a record at Gulfstream this year for most wins by an owner or trainer. Each has been suspended for medication violations in the past, and the pair has been criticized by other Gulfstream horsemen for their aggressive claiming tactics.

On Wednesday, Shuman said that the investigation had been "blown way out of proportion" and that he had done nothing wrong.

"Because of this, my career is ruined," Shuman said. "If I lose Michael Gill, where am I going to go? I can't get stalls at any racetrack anywhere right now, and it's all because of this."

Gill said he was contemplating a lawsuit against Gulfstream Park and the Florida division for their handling of the investigation. He also criticized the division for not making the results of the tests on Casual Conflict public.

"All that has happened is that a couple of guys' careers are tarnished," said Gill.

The veterinarian who removed Casual Conflict's leg, Philip Aleong, has been denied access to the grounds by Gulfstream management, although Gulfstream has not released details about its action. After a search connected to the investigation, a second veterinarian who worked for Shuman and Gill, Leonard Patrick, was banned from Gulfstream when track security found medications in his vehicle that were stored improperly.

Dave Roberts, the executive director of the division, said the division would not seek any penalties against Aleong or Patrick. But Roberts said that the state's veterinary board, a separate regulatory agency, is still investigating the amputation of Casual Conflict's limb.