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How Trainers Handle a Positive Influences the Penalty

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Under the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, what is a trainer to do when a post-race test comes up positive for a medication he or she believes was not intentionally given to the horse? The decision can significantly affect the penalty ultimately rendered.

For Tom Vance, he simply accepted a positive test result for lidocaine—his first career medication positive—in his 3-year-old filly Baby Avery, who is owned by Michael and Linda Mazoch. The test followed a runner-up finish April 28 at Oaklawn Park in a maiden special weight race. For accepting the violation, he received June 3 a seven-day suspension plus a $1,000 fine from the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit—HISA’s enforcement arm.

New Mexico trainer Andres Gonzalez also had a lidocaine positive but his resolution, also announced June 3, yielded a 15-day suspension and a $1,000 fine. His positive test came from a 4-year-old gelding Let There Be Peace after he won a $5,000 claiming race Feb. 1 at Sunland Park. The gelding was owned at the time by Amanda Sweeten but was subsequently claimed March 15 by trainer Tom Pierce Jr. on behalf of Ruben Ramirez.

Both horses were disqualified from the races and purses were forfeited.

Gonzalez requested the split sample be tested and had his case reviewed by the Internal Adjudication Panel. For Class B controlled medications, such as lidocaine, the maximum period of ineligibility is 15 days. Trainers who sign an admission get the benefit of a decreased sanction (seven days), while those who go before members of the IAP may be subject to the full penalty. In addition to the fine, Gonzalez will have to cover the cost of having the split sample tested.

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Also not working in Gonzalez’ favor, according to the IAP final decision report, is that he provided no evidence as to why Let There Be Peace tested positive for the anesthetic. The report notes, too, that the trainer bears significant fault or negligence for the drug violation.

There also are other mitigating circumstances. While Vance received his first medication positive, Gonzalez has been fined 11 times between 2008-2019 for medication violations in New Mexico with both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. With his Thoroughbreds, he has paid primarily $1,000 fines for positive tests for methocarbamol, naproxen, phenylbutasone, and oxyphenbutasone. With his Quarter Horses, he has had drug violations involving clenbuterol, gabapentin, flunixin, and cobalt followed by fines from $500-$2,000.

Gonzalez could not be reached by BloodHorse for comment, but Vance said he had no choice but to accept the positive result and move on.

“I have never had a positive and, to be honest, the first time is a shock,” Vance said. “I hated to admit guilt but I had no choice. I knew it had to be environmental but I have no clue from where. I have checked my grooms’ rooms and I have cameras. I do have a lot of owners coming through the barn feeding peppermints.”

Vance said he is all for the rigorous testing being done but he struggles to understand enforcement when the findings are at trace levels.

“We need to have a level playing ground but I cannot touch my horses because I take metformin and pain killers because I’ve had a knee replacement. I mean, that is part of the joy of this job,” he said. “I have not put on a tongue tie in a year and half; I have my grooms do it.”

“We’ve just come off the best meet of my life at Oaklawn,” he added, referring to his eight wins and 26 other in-the-money finishes that included winning the Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes with Bohemian Bo . “I worry if it happens again, then it looks like you are cheating.” 

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