'This Is No Mistake': Louisiana Commissioners Lengthen Penalties For Trainers In Zilpaterol Cases - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

‘This Is No Mistake’: Louisiana Commissioners Lengthen Penalties For Trainers In Zilpaterol Cases

Louisiana Downs

Racing commissioners in Louisiana took penalties for zilpaterol overages one step farther in a lengthy meeting April 26, extending the already-significant suspensions handed out by stewards a few weeks earlier.

The commission considered eight positives from trainer Rosendo Valdez, four from Lanny Keith, four from Manuel Pizana, three from Manuel Macias, and two from Fernando Lopez. The overages were part of a flood of recent zilpaterol positives in the state.

Zilpaterol is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in horses. Instead, it is a drug approved for use in beef cattle to promote weight gain and lean muscle mass. It's commonly administered as a feed-through product when given to cows.

Zilpaterol is a Class 2 drug in the Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines and is not considered to have any legitimate therapeutic purposes in the horse. According to Dr. Levant Dirikolu, head of the equine drug testing laboratory at Louisiana State University, it's closely related to clenbuterol and ractopamine.

Read more about the stewards' zilpaterol rulings here, here, and here.

Stewards had already given each licensee a six-month suspension per violation, which was the maximum available to them by Louisiana regulations. The commissioners voted to extend those penalties in every case.

The cases before the commissioners on Tuesday were just a few of the trainers who ended up with zilpaterol overages, beginning with those whose stewards' rulings were dated the earliest. More cases are scheduled to be considered by the commission in June.

In all cases considered at the April 26 meeting, the trainers waived their rights to a split sample test and a stewards' hearing.

Valdez was not present at the commission meeting, despite having been noticed that he should appear. Brett Bonin, assistant attorney general for the commission, said he had not heard from any attorney purporting to represent Valdez. Commissioners learned that Valdez would have been notified of the first zilpaterol positives well ahead of his last zilpaterol positives — meaning, they interpreted, he had a warning his horses may have been exposed to the drug and chose to keep entering horses who would subsequently also test positive anyway.

The commission unanimously agreed to extend the eight suspensions before them for Valdez from six months each to one year each, and increase the fine to $1,500 for each one.

The remaining trainers were represented by attorneys, and all said they received notice of all their zilpaterol positives at the same time, so had no opportunity to change barn management or scratch horses in response to the issue.

In the cases of Lonny Keith and Fernando Lopez, both trainers said they had been using feed supplements that turned out to have zilpaterol in them. Through his attorney, Keith referred to the supplement he had been using as “muscle mass” and that it was not available through common channels like Valley Vet Supply. When asked where he obtained the supplement, Keith said he purchased it from someone in Ohio, though commissioners did not press him further on its source.

“The ingredients in this supplement were not listed on this supplement,” said Keith's attorney, Eddie Guidry. “Mr. Keith had no idea zilpaterol was in the supplement he was using … if he had known zilpaterol was in there, he would not have used it.”

Commissioner Eddie J. Delahoussaye did not seem to think this excused Keith's actions.

“He shouldn't have used it anyway, if he didn't know what was in there,” said Delahoussaye. “We have rules and regulations and this industry is in turmoil. We're losing a lot of people. And as you know, when Bobby Baffert gets ruled off for 90 days for an ointment that he and his associates probably knew what was in there and they still used it. He knew, and this gentleman right here, if he didn't know what was in this stuff, he shouldn't have used it at all.”

“I agree with you and I think he agrees with you,” answered Guidry.

Guidry said he didn't think “muscle mass” was a trade name for the product, but the common name many trainers may have used for that substance. (There is a separate mass-marketed supplement product sold as Muscle Mass, but Guidry, based on the container he had seen, said he did not think that was the substance in question.) He said Keith organized its purchase by calling someone who sold the supplement, but that he also believed the same product was available for purchase online.

“This stuff was going all around the backside in the Quarter Horse world and they've been using this stuff for probably three years,” said Guidry. “I think this stuff was coming out of Mexico, but I don't know that for sure.”

Commissioners pondered whether Keith should get some consideration since he did admit his error, though also pointed out it was hard to know for sure whether Keith really was ignorant to the supplement's contents.

“I've been in the business over 50 years and I'll tell you what, he should know what's going on with his horses,” said Delahoussaye. “He's responsible. This is no mistake. These guys know what's going on. That's my opinion.”

Ultimately, commissioners decided to extend the suspension for each positive from six months to one year for Keith, as well as Pizana, Macias, and Lopez, with the condition that half the time would be served now, and they could return to racing with the other half of the suspension served as probation. If they incurred new medication violations on probation, the remaining half of the suspensions would have to be served at that time. Guidry also represented Pizano and said he thought this arrangement was about the best his clients could hope for.

Lopez also said his positives came from supplement use. He told commissioners he had his horses on three supplements at the time of his positives — Platinum Performance, a muscle builder, and “some enhancer.” Commissioner Thomas Calvert took particular interest in the muscle builder.

Lopez said he could not remember the name of the muscle builder, but he purchased it online and could not remember the name of the web storefront. He also could not remember when he began using it, but admitted that through searching his credit card records, he could probably figure out where and when he'd gotten it.

Lopez admitted he did not know where the supplement was made or what was in it, and acknowledged that it was not FDA-approved.

Read more about FDA regulation of supplements marketed toward racehorses here.

(No dietary supplements for humans or animals are regulated by the FDA, although feed additives containing drugs like zilpaterol are regulated by the FDA. There is no FDA-approved zilpaterol product for horses.)

Calvert seemed skeptical that Lopez started using the supplement on a whim, as the trainer said he did not give it on the advice or with the knowledge of his veterinarian.

Calvert asked Lopez whether he saw a significant change in his horses on the muscle builder.

“No, not really,” Lopez answered.

“He's under oath, is that right?” Calvert asked the commission chairman.

“So of all the supplements on Planet Earth and you chose this supplement you bought online. You can't tell me where you bought it, you can't tell me who you bought it from, but it was one you chose to use, is that your testimony?” Calvert asked, to which Lopez responded affirmatively.

“I think the way it gets around is somebody starts using it and they're successful and they tell their friend, 'I'm using this, but don't tell anybody else,' and of course they do,” speculated Guidry.

Calvert asked whether Lopez could provide a container of the supplement to help the commission track down its source. Lopez said that he could, which prompted Calvert to ask why he still had any of it in his possession.

Lopez' change in suspension may be revisited, depending upon how much assistance he can provide the commission in tracking down the supplement's origin.

Not all of the changes to suspensions were unanimously agreed to by commissioners.

“I don't agree with any of the sentences we imposed because I think it's very ironic everybody made the same time and came in with the same story,” said commissioner Don Cravins Sr. “I think [these trainers] have done tremendous damage to the racing industry that's already suffering as a result of the infractions you committed. I raise cattle and I know damn well what they eat and if I was giving them steroids, which I don't do. So for you to come before this commission and play this BS that you were just oblivious about what you gave to horses is really a damn lie.”

Paulick Report Icon

Receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts, promotions, and much more!

Ask Ray?

Have a question for Ray that you'd like answered? Have a news tip? Ray will go to his network of sources in pursuit of an answer.

Ask Ray