Eight Horses Test Positive for Human Antidepressant in Texas

Posted by by Jennifer K. Hancock on 08/01/2017

Three trainers facing fines and suspensions for Class 1 drug violations at Texas tracks

As August begins, three trainers will be spending time in front of the Texas Racing Commission stewards in hearings on allegations of Class 1 medication violations. Trainers Judd Kearl, Jose Sanchez and Brian Stroud received notification from the Texas Racing Commission on July 21 for positive tests at Sam Houston and/or Retama Park involving Nomifensine. 

Kearl, the reigning AQHA Champion Trainer, received notification of five alleged violations between May 22 and June 17, Sanchez is alleged of two positive tests, and Stroud was notified of one alleged positive. 

From Kearl’s barn, Zoomin N Celebrating, a 3-year-old Azoom filly with lifetime earnings of $28,048, tested positive for Nomifensine at Sam Houston Race Park on May 22 and also on June 17 at Retama Park. Kearl’s other runners testing positive for Nomifensine were: Million Dollar Kiss, a 5-year-old Jess Louisiana Blue mare with lifetime earnings of $124,456; Chivalri, a 3-year-old American Runaway gelding with lifetime earnings of $3,445; and Tellem Honeys Here, a 3-year-old Teller Cartel filly with lifetime earnings of $6,401.

Public hearings for Sanchez and Stroud are scheduled for August 2, while Kearl’s hearing is scheduled for August 3. 

Stroud is facing a $10,000 fine and a one-year suspension for Desdemona Rambler’s June 17 positive test. For his first violation on Contentious Strike on June 10, Sanchez faces a $10,000 fine and a one-year suspension, and for his second violation on Dancers Toast on June 16, he faces a $25,000 fine and a three-year suspension. Kearl faces similar fines and suspensions as Sanchez for his first two violations, but Kearl is facing up to a $25,000 fine and up to a five-year suspension for the third through fifth violations. 

Speedhorse reached out to Kearl, who declined to be interviewed and directed all questions to his attorney, Darrell Vienna, who is also representing Sanchez. “My clients have neither knowledge of or have administered or instructed for it to be administered the substance in question,” Vienna said. “At the hearing, we believe that the facts will demonstrate that.” 

According to his website, Vienna has been a licensed Thoroughbred trainer in 25 racing jurisdictions & saddled the earners of over $50 million that included 68 graded stakes winners from more than 1,200 winners. Over the past 2 decades, he has represented horsemen across the world.  

The Texas Racing Commission provided the Notice of Alleged Violation on each horse, but declined to comment prior to the hearings. 

Nomifensine is an antidepressant that was researched and investigated in the 1970s. It showed promise as a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor, thus increasing the amount of synaptic norepinephrine and dopamine available to receptors. But, it was not without issues. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration withdrew approval for Nomifensine in 1992 due to a risk of haemolytic anaemia, which is an anemia due to the abnormal breakdown of red blood cells. 

The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the world governing body of equestrian sport, lists Nomifensine as a banned substance. The common trade names for Nomifensine are Alival & Nomival. 

The FEI website states: “No longer commercially available for medical use due to side effects. It was used as an antidepressive, but also causes agitation through stimulation of the central nervous system. No legitimate therapeutic indication in the equine athlete. Potential to influence performance is high.”

Kearl currently leads all trainers in earnings for the year with $2,750,840. He’s saddled 404 starters, and 76 winners including 13 stakes races. On July 22, he saddled Hold Air Hostage to win the Rainbow Derby-G1. Kearl saddled 3 finalists for the Derby. On July 23, he saddled Ruidoso Futurity-G1 winner Eagle Jazz to win the Rainbow Futurity-G1, a race that had 4 Kearl qualifiers. Eagle Jazz, who also won the Ruidoso Futurity-G1, is eligible for a $4-million bonus if he qualifies & wins the All American Futurity-G1 on Labor Day.   

New Mexico racing officials are keeping tabs on what is happening in Texas. Ismael “Izzy” Trejo, the executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, said they are testing for Nomifensine. 

“The tentacles of Quarter Horse racing certainly reach from Texas into New Mexico and Oklahoma,” Trejo said. “Our constituents are watching with open eyes to what happens in Texas because I can assure that the New Mexico racing commission will reciprocate with whatever sanctions come down on any of those gentlemen. That’s part of the whole process. If a guy gets suspended in one jurisdiction, all the jurisdictions that I know of will reciprocate and uphold that same sanction. We won’t necessarily put our own ruling out, we’re merely going to reciprocate with whatever sanctions Texas may give. If they get off the hook, New Mexico will not have anything to hang their hat on. We have a lot of very concerned stakeholders that are keeping an eye on that situation in Texas. We want the outcome to be what’s best for horse racing.” 

Trejo said it takes approximately 10-14 business days for the commission to receive test results from the lab. That time can vary during the summer with more tracks racing and around various holidays. 

“As of now, we have tested for that same substance, and it has not been detected in any of our post-race samples,” Trejo said.  

New Mexico has also been utilizing out-of-competition testing to help keep a level playing field. Trejo estimates that approximately 60 out-of-competition tests have been performed at Ruidoso Downs during the current meet. He only recalls one positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, from the out-of-competition testing at Ruidoso. 

“Our belief is that the out-of-competition testing continues to be utilized as a deterrent in keeping the guessing game going,” Trejo said. “Horsemen don’t know when we are coming. We feel that is one of the big advantages to the out-of-competition testing program. It’s not necessarily used in its entirety to catch people cheating, but it’s a great deterrent.”

Shaun Hubbard, Ruidoso Downs’ president and general manager, said the track has increased security measures including surveillance on high-profile horses and is watching what happens in its neighboring state. “We are keeping a very close eye and ear on the proceedings there in Texas,” he said. “We’re waiting to take a stance on behalf of Ruidoso Downs once we hear the outcome of those hearings. We’ve actually hired an outside company for some surveillance measures,” Hubbard added. “Pertaining to the positives out of Texas, I’m as anxious as anyone to hear how they rule and how that goes.” 

The track hasn’t previously publicized the increased security measures, but Hubbard said, “Those are things that we do on a day-to-day basis to ensure the most integrity we can have here, and we will continue to.”

Update –Texas Racing Commission stewards on July 31 issued immediate summary suspensions for the 3 trainers. Each summary suspension stated: “This Class 1 drug is known to be dangerous in humans, has not been tested on horses, and has been removed from the market by the FDA. These positive tests were among eight total positives that occurred within a time period of a few weeks, by three trainers at two different tracks. The totality of these circumstances strongly indicate a scheme to cheat and also indicate that the drug was intentionally administered (by the accused trainer), either directly or at his instruction. Therefore, in order to protect the safety and health of race participants, both human and equine, and to protect the public from unlawful influences on the outcome of races, a summary suspension under Texas Racing Act Section 3:16 and Commission Rule 307.62 is hereby immediately imposed … pending a hearing on the merits.” Summary suspensions in one jurisdiction are honored in other racing states. 

As of press time, the Aug. 2 & 3 hearings have been postponed. Please visit www.speedhorse.com, the Speedhorse Facebook page, or check your email for updates.

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