Updated on 09/25/2013 4:22PM

Tampa Bay Downs bans Cibelli, vet from 2013-14 meeting


Tampa Bay Downs in Florida on Wednesday banned one of its leading trainers, Jane Cibelli, for its 2013-14 meet after being notified that she had been issued a 60-day suspension from the state’s racing commission for an incident in which a veterinarian administered an illegal substance to one of her horses on race day, the track said.

In a prepared statement, the track said that it also has banned the veterinarian, Dr. Orlando Paraliticci, for the 2013-14 meet, which is scheduled to run from Dec. 4 to May 4. The statement further said that the track will not accept any entries from Cibelli during the meet, regardless of where she trains.

“Tampa Bay Downs is committed to ensuring a fair environment for those involved in Thoroughbred racing at its location and will continue to invest its time and resources to that end,” the statement said.

The bans were issued nearly eight months after the incident occurred. On Jan. 27, according to documents detailing the investigation, a track veterinarian and her assistant witnessed Paraliticci inject a substance into the back of the right front knee of Raven Train, a horse trained by Cibelli who was entered to race that day. The track vet reported the incident to the stewards.

Paraliticci later told investigators the substance was “P-Block or Sarapin,” according to the documents. Sarapin is a natural substance derived from the pitcher plant that is marketed as a painkiller, although studies of the substance have failed to demonstrate that it is effective.

Cibelli was not at the barn at the time of the injection, and she has resolutely maintained that she never instructed the vet to administer the substance. In an interview Wednesday, she reiterated her position and said that Paraliticci acted on his own. In interviews with investigators just after the incident was reported, Paraliticci – who was later suspended for 90 days – said that he administered the substance on his own, but he changed his story six weeks later, telling investigators that Cibelli was at fault.

In the Wednesday interview, Cibelli also acknowledged the 60-day suspension issued by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering on Sept. 20, but she said that under the order for the suspension, she did not admit to any role in the incident.

“I accept responsibility under the absolute insurer rule, but I’m not admitting to any guilt,” Cibelli said. “I never told him to do it, and I’ll maintain that until the day I die.”

The consent order, which was provided by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering late Wednesday, states that the suspension will start Oct. 15 and run through Dec. 13. The consent order also includes language that prohibits Cibelli from appealing the suspension, stating that Cibelli “waives all right to seek judicial review of this consent order.”

In a Sept. 18 letter included in the consent order, the division’s general counsel, Joe Helton Jr., recommended that the state accept the 60-day consent order because of the difficulty of relying on testimony from Paraliticci. Helton said that the state was not able to test the syringe that Paraliticci used to administer the substance and was therefore unable to positively identify if the substance was indeed Sarapin. Paraliticci accepted his own suspension under a May 15 consent order with the state, in which he agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

“While Dr. Paraliticci did agree to testify in his consent order, there would clearly be significant credibility issues regarding his testimony as the person who actually administered the drug,” Helton wrote.

Cibelli said she expected to be suspended by the division, but she did not expect to be banned from Tampa Bay, where she has been a leading trainer for several years.

“I’ve supported Tampa Bay for 23 years of my life,” she said. “It’s my home. It’s not like it’s my winter residence and then I go somewhere else. This is where my life is.”

Cibelli’s partner, Margo Flynn, is Tampa’s vice president of marketing.