By T. D. Thornton
The stewards at Prairie Meadows Monday disqualified the second-place finisher in the 2019 Iowa Derby. They ruled that a post-race positive test for the beta-blocker drug Atenolol was likely the result of “inadvertent exposure,” yet because of mitigating factors that included the “extensive medication violation history” of trainer Steve Asmussen, the Hall-of-Fame conditioner would be fined $1,000.
Atenolol slows the heart rate and decreases blood pressure when prescribed in humans for various cardiac ailments. The Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) lists it as a Class 3, Penalty B substance in its model rule guidelines.
The ARCI’s recommended penalty for Atenolol is 15-day suspension absent mitigating circumstances and up to a 60-day suspension if there are aggravating factors. The administrative penalty is a minimum fine of $500 absent mitigating circumstances, and a maximum of $1,000 if there are aggravating factors.
Asmussen was not suspended for any period of time. It was not immediately known if he would be appealing the fine.
Shang (Shanghai Bobby) triggered the positive. The 10-1 shot endured a rough trip and crossed the finish wire third in the $250,000 stakes July 5, 2019, but was elevated to second when his rider claimed foul against the winner, resulting in a disqualification.
The post-race lab test reported Atenolol at 1.99 ng/ml in urine. Asmussen chose to send his split sample to a referee laboratory that confirmed the split sample of Atenolol at 1.2 ng/ml in urine and at 12 pg/ml in serum, the ruling stated.
“There is no acceptable level for Atenolol in any sample, as there is no screening limit,” the stewards’ ruling stated, noting that Asmussen, at a May 15, 2020, telephonic hearing with his attorney present, “did not dispute the positive test result, but rather provided evidence as to the potential cause.”
One of those potential causes included evidence that purported to show Atenolol to be in the local water. Yet the stewards noted that, “Mr. Asmussen’s horse shipped in three days prior to the race [while] horses who were located at the track for the entire racing season experienced no exposures that showed up in any positive post-race tests.”
Another potential contamination cause was allegedly related to a human handler, possibly from an employee urinating in stalls, a practice that Asmussen testified is “impossible to stop,” according to the ruling.
“There are mitigating factors which cause the stewards to impose no suspension penalty against Mr. Asmussen’s license in this matter. The mitigating factors are as follows: The amount of the drug found was extremely low, and there was substantial persuasive evidence provided showing Atenolol can be an environmental substance,” the ruling stated.
“The board believes it was an inadvertent exposure, and not a deliberate administration,” the ruling stated. “The board feels the contamination most likely came from a person closely associated with the horse, and not from the local water. [However] this disqualification is justified due to the irrefutable drug positive. Although it is likely that the horse carried the drug in his system due to an inadvertent exposure, he nonetheless carried the drug in his system, which necessitates the disqualification to ensure the integrity of racing and to instill confidence in the betting public.”
In addition to the forfeiture of $49,700 in purse money, the ruling stated that Shang has been placed on the veterinarian list and must pass a commission-approved exam before being eligible to run. However, nearly a year has passed since the race in question. Shang was off for six months after the Iowa Derby, won a comeback allowance race at the Fair Grounds in January, and has subsequently started three more times at various tracks, running fifth once and second twice.