Updated on 09/21/2013 7:53AM

Tampa Bay Downs: Cibelli, vet give conflicting statements regarding raceday injection

Tom Keyser
Trainer Jane Cibelli denies she instructed a veterinarian to inject the horse Raven Train with anything other than furosemide on Jan. 27, the day the horse was to have raced.

Orlando Paraliticci, a Florida veterinarian, was caught on raceday in January administering an untested substance that purports to block pain to a horse trained by Jane Cibelli, leading to his ban from Tampa Bay Downs and an ongoing investigation, according to documents prepared by state investigators.

The documents contain conflicting accounts of whether Cibelli ordered the substance to be administered. In an interview with an agent of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau immediately after the incident was reported, Paraliticci took responsibility, but he changed his story five weeks later after he had already been barred and was working with investigators, according to the documents.

The documents, which were obtained from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering under a Freedom of Information Act request, contain the first official accounts of a Jan. 27 incident at Tampa Bay Downs that led to the veterinarian’s suspension and an investigation into Cibelli’s role in the decision to administer the substance. As part of a settlement with regulators, Paraliticci accepted a 90-day suspension and has agreed to cooperate with the parimutuel wagering division as it considers penalties against Cibelli, a leading trainer at Tampa Bay the past several years whose partner, Margo Flynn, is the track’s vice president of marketing.

According to the documents, Paraliticci told investigators that he injected three milliliters of a substance called “P-Block or Sarapin” to the “knee area” of the right front leg of Raven Train the morning of Jan. 27. Cibelli was not at the barn at the time Paraliticci administered the substance, according to Paraliticci and witnesses who have provided testimony to investigators, the documents said.

An exhibit included in the documents showed a vial marked “P-Bloc” that was manufactured by Live Science Products. Information about the company or the product could not be immediately obtained by Wednesday afternoon. Sarapin is a natural substance derived from the pitcher plant marketed as a pain reliever.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday afternoon, Cibelli adamantly denied instructing Paraliticci to inject the horse with any substance other than furosemide, the anti-bleeding medication legal to administer on raceday, as she also told investigators.

“At no time did I instruct him to inject it or block it,” Cibelli said.

According to the documents, Paraliticci was seen administering the substance by a track veterinarian, Kristen Pasir, and her assistant as they were doing rounds to conduct pre-race inspections. After administering the substance, Paraliticci allegedly told Pasir and her assistant that, “It was a mistake and I hoped you would forget it.” Pasir reported the administration to stewards and drew blood from the horse, the documents said.

After the injection was reported to the stewards, Paraliticci informed Cibelli that he had been caught administering the drug, he told investigators. Paraliticci then claimed that Cibelli referred to him with an expletive and said, “Don’t you involve me. Don’t tell them I had anything to do with it. Keep me out of it.” Paraliticci said Cibelli, using her influence with Flynn, threatened to have him “thrown off the track,” according to the documents describing his interview with the state investigator.

In the interview, Cibelli denied ever threatening to use her relationship with Flynn to punish Paraliticci, but she admitted to yelling at him after being informed that he had been caught injecting the horse. “But why wouldn’t I?” she said. “I did go ballistic on him. People know I have a temper. I did call him stupid and some other things, but injecting the horse was stupid. He’s playing with my livelihood.”

In his interview with the state investigator five weeks after he was barred, Paraliticci stated that Cibelli had ordered him to “shoot up the right splint,” the documents said.

Paraliticci’s assistant, Marcos Ortiz, who was present in Raven Train’s stall on Jan. 27, told state investigators that he did not believe that Paraliticci would have injected the substance without explicit orders from Cibelli, but he also said that he heard Paraliticci take responsibility for the administration in a call from the stewards later that day.

Ortiz also said that Cibelli and her assistant Robert Holman had requested “pain blocks in hoofs and legs of other horses” in the past, the report said.

Billing records to Raven Train’s owner and vet records maintained by Paraliticci for the horse did not indicate that the horse was given an injection of a substance into its knee on Jan. 27, according to exhibits in the documents.

Peter Berube, the general manager of the track, denied that Flynn had ever asked for Cibelli to be afforded special treatment.

“Margo has worked here for years, she’s a true professional, and there has never been any special consideration given to Jane,” Berube said.

A spokesperson for the division, Tajiana Ancora-Brown, said on Wednesday that they would have no comment on the documents or the investigation, which she said is ongoing. Paraliticci did not respond to requests for comment.

Cibelli said she expected to be suspended for 60 days by the division under the absolute insurer rule, which holds trainers responsible for the condition of their horses regardless of fault. “I’m going to have to face a penalty,” Cibelli said. “That’s the way the game is played.”