04/29/2014 12:10PM

Vaccarezza protests by pulling Little Mike from Woodford Reserve Turf Classic

Barbara D Livingston
Little Mike, who had been projected to be one of the favorites for Saturday's Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, will not run.

Carlo Vaccarezza, the owner and trainer of multiple Grade 1 winner Little Mike, pulled his horse from Churchill Downs on Tuesday, in a protest of a decision by Kentucky racing regulators to take a blood sample from the horse for out-of-competition testing.

The decision was accompanied by a statement from Vaccarezza highly critical of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Churchill Downs, even though Kentucky’s racing regulations explicitly allow commission personnel to pull blood and urine samples from any horse who is being pointed to a race in the state, at any time or location. Little Mike was being pointed to the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Classic on the undercard of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

In the statement, Vaccarezza claimed that the action by the commission was a “draconian violation of my property and integrity.” He claimed that the KHRC pulled the sample “allegedly in response to prodding from a neighboring rival stable, without my knowledge, physical presence or consent, against the strong protestations of my employees, and without advance notice, or security or law enforcement personnel present.”

Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said that the commission’s chief veterinarian, Dr. Will Farmer, arrived at Vaccarezza’s barn shortly before 10 a.m. on Monday to pull the samples from the horse. At the time, Little Mike was getting a bath from a stablehand, and Vaccarezza was not at the barn, Scollay said.

Farmer then called Vaccarezza “as a courtesy,” Scollay said, and told him that Little Mike had been selected for out-of-competition testing. Vaccarezza did not object to the procedure at that time, Scollay said, and the personnel at the barn did not in any way protest.

“The way [the conversation] was described to me, was, ‘Do what you gotta do,’” Scollay said. “Our protocol was followed by the letter.”

Vaccarezza took over the training of Little Mike, a 7-year-old he bred who won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf, from Dale Romans after the horse finished ninth in the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin on Dec. 9.

In an interview, Vaccarezza also said he was upset that the commission was requiring that he pass the state’s trainer’s test to obtain his license. Although Vaccarezza is licensed in Florida, he has been refused an owner’s license in New York in the past.

“They are not asking any of the other trainers shipping in from Florida or anywhere else for that matter to take a trainer’s test again,” Vaccarezza said.

John Ward, the executive director of the commission, said: “Mr. Vaccarezza and I agreed two or three months ago that it would be appropriate for him to take another trainer’s test as a condition of him being issued an owner or trainer’s license in Kentucky.”

Little Mike would likely have been the strong second choice in the Woodford Reserve, behind two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Vaccarezza said last week that Churchill’s racing office had hustled Little Mike for the Woodford Reserve.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved rules allowing for out-of-competition testing several years ago. The regulations do not require “advance notice,” and the rules state that an “owner, trainer, or any authorized designee shall fully cooperate” with commission personnel as they obtain the samples.

Many national racing organizations have come out strongly in support of out-of-competition testing programs like those that are in place in Kentucky. Supporters contend that the programs are the best line of defense in catching or deterring trainers who may be using powerful drugs that are used well in advance of a race and are hard to detect, such as blood-doping substances.

At least six states currently have active out-of-competition testing programs . In New York, the state’s harness horsemen challenged the rules on a number of grounds, including a violation of a prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, but many of those challenges were shot down by a state judge.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch