04/02/2013 3:35PM

Tampa Bay Downs: Owner in banned vet case tells of accidental injection


The owner of a horse at the center of a perplexing incident in January at Tampa Bay Downs, which resulted in the track’s banning of a veterinarian, said she was told by her trainer that the horse had mistakenly been treated with an antibiotic on race day that was intended for a different horse.

Hannah Smith, who owns Raven Train, the horse involved in the incident, said Tuesday that the horse’s trainer, Jane Cibelli, informed her of the mistake after the horse was scratched from the second race Jan. 27. Administering any medication on race day other than the anti-bleeding drug furosemide or prednisolone acetate, a corticosteroid that is often administered in Florida to prevent heat prostration, is banned in Florida.

“Somebody gave him a shot by accident,” Smith said. “That’s all I really know. That’s what Jane told me.”

The veterinarian who administered the injection, Dr. Orlando Paraliticci, was banned by Tampa Bay Downs one week after the incident. The track cited its power to exclude when banning the veterinarian and then handed over its records of the incident at the request of the state’s Divsion of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which is conducting its own investigation, according to Sandi Copes Poreda, a spokeswoman for the division.

“Our investigations into Paraliticci and Cibelli are both active and ongoing,” Poreda said Tuesday. “Any necessary hearings will be held once the investigations have been concluded.” She declined to address specific questions about the incident.

Smith expressed surprise Tuesday that the incident had led to a veterinarian being banned and an investigation. She said that she had no knowledge of the ban and that she had not been contacted by any investigators.

“I don’t even know the name of the vet who did it,” she said. “I was just frustrated that [Raven Train] couldn’t start. He’d been away from the races for more than a year because he had a problem with an undescended testicle, and so I really wanted to see him run.”

Raven Train has run twice since being scratched from the race – on Feb. 13, 17 days after the scratch, and March 8, both at Tampa Bay. In his last start, he finished third in a $16,000 claiming race for nonwinners of two lifetime.

Smith’s account of the horse receiving an antibiotic injection by mistake is not consistent with a report prepared by investigators for Tampa Bay and by the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau, according to several officials with knowledge of the report. The investigators tested the syringe that was used, and the drug was not an antibiotic, the officials said. The officials declined to identify the substance.

In addition, Paraliticci acknowledged to investigators that Raven Train was the horse he intended to treat, according to the officials, despite signs on the horse’s stall that he was entered to run that day. Racetrack stewards scheduled a hearing into the incident on Feb. 15, but that hearing was postponed after Paraliticci’s attorneys requested more time to prepare his defense. Shortly thereafter, the state took over the investigation.

Paraliticci and Cibelli repeatedly have not responded to phone calls and did not respond again Tuesday.

Cibelli was the leading trainer at Monmouth Park in New Jersey in 2011 and 2012. She has posted exceptional winning rates over the past several years, including at Tampa Bay, where her win rate was 39 percent until the date Raven Train was scratched, with 13 wins from 39 starts. Since the scratch, she has won with 6 of 38 runners at the track, or 16 percent.

The lack of any charges from the state and the disparate treatment of Paraliticci and Cibelli have led to criticism of Tampa Bay Downs and the state investigation. There have been suggestions that Tampa Bay Downs should have banned Cibelli in addition to Paraliticci, given that she is the absolute insurer of the horse under state rules, and that the state is dragging its feet on the investigation.

Peter Berube, general manager of Tampa Bay Downs, said that the track was unable to take action against Cibelli once the state got involved, citing thorny legal questions that accompany a track’s decision to ban a licensee once state racing commissions have gotten involved. Those legal concerns have ensnared other tracks in costly legal battles, under an interpretation of the law that contends a track may act unilaterally to ban an individual but that the state must adhere to due process. When both a track and the state have acted on an investigation, either independently or in concert, the track can be tied to the state, attorneys have warned, limiting tracks’ abilities to enforce house rules or use their powers to exclude without facing a lawsuit.

Berube, whose father, Paul, was the former longtime head of the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau, said that Tampa Bay Downs is keeping its options open and awaiting action by the division. If the division does not charge Cibelli, Berube said that Tampa Bay may act on its own following the close of the case.

“If the state doesn’t take action, we have house rules that will definitely come into play,” Berube said.