By Perry Lefko
Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) is seeking a stiffer penalty for a veterinarian who was fined and put on probation for a year for violating rules pertaining to the shock wave treatment of horses because it is concerned about its reputation among horsemen and bettors.
In an appeal of the ruling issued by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which fined Dr. Brian Van Arem $7,500 and placed conditions on his license for a period of one year beginning on Oct. 4, WEG wants additional penalties to be imposed on the veterinarian, as first reported by Daily Racing Form. Specifically, WEG wants the AGCO to suspend Van Arem's license for six months from the date of the Sept. 19 decision on or 90 days from the date live racing commences at Woodbine Apr. 20, 2019.
In its appeal filed Oct. 17, WEG asked that the matter be heard on an expedited basis given the issues of public interest and the serious impact on the integrity of the horse racing industry. The matter is scheduled to be heard Dec. 14.
WEG Chief Executive Officer Jim Lawson declined comment on advisement from the company's legal counsel while the matter is under appeal.
“As a racetrack owner, WEG is committed to providing a racing product which has a high assurance of integrity in order to attract the wagering public and to assure competitors that they are playing on a fair and and level playing field,” WEG stated in its appeal. “Dr. Van Arem's misconduct at Woodbine racetrack has brought the conduct of Woodbine into disrepute and has impacted their ability to carry on business. Trainers on Woodbine backstretch are considering moving to other racetracks as a direct result of practices similar to those of Dr. Van Arem. WEG has been aggrieved by Dr. Van Arem's misconduct and the decision (by the AGCO). It therefore has a right degree to appeal the decision to the panel.”
Woodbine security notified the stewards on Aug. 1 that Van Arem provided extracorporeal shock wave therapy on two horses that were entered by trainer Norm McKnight that evening. The two horses were treated July 30, which was inside of the required time period of 96 hours of a horse competing in a race.
The horses were scratched and both Van Arem and McKnight attended the stewards' office and were informed that an AGCO investigation would commence. Van Arem and McKnight told the stewards of a third horse that had been treated in the same period and was entered to run Aug. 3. That horse was subsequently scratched by the stewards.
According to the ruling issued by the stewards, Van Arem contended shock wave therapy is therapeutic and less evasive than other pre-race treatments. The stewards contended that shock wave therapy is not a pre-race treatment, but rather a therapy that that is ongoing to help relieve some of the ailments horses acquire through training and racing and the cutoff rule is 96 hours. The stewards pointed to the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rule suggesting that extracorporeal shock wave therapy for racehorses be stopped 10 days from the horses are scheduled to run, although some jurisdictions have modified the rule to within seven days of racing.
In its ruling, the stewards said the administration of the shock wave treatments inside of the recommended time could be construed to potentially gain an unfair racing advantage. As such, as a licensed trainer and veterinarian, Van Arem is responsible to have full knowledge of the rules of racing and abide by them.
Van Arem told Thoroughbred Daily News that shock wave therapy is somewhat of a misnomer.
“The name of it is wrong,” he said. “It should have never been called that. The problem is it's got such a detrimental name. People think you are shocking horses. It's part of physical therapy that people use, part of physical therapy that we use, as part of acupuncture and chiropractics as well. We try to get away from as much injecting as we can with medication or with drugs. This is a great way to do it. I think there's a lack of education on shock wave itself and that's where they are jumping all over this. There's also a lack of education for the notification for the veterinarians, all of them at the racetrack here, to where they stood with it and notifying them on the withdrawal times of it.”
Van Arem, who operates the 180-stall T and T Training facility, has been doing shock wave therapy for 15 years and said there has never been an issue with it before. He said he has engaged legal counsel.
McKnight, Woodbine's leading trainer in wins, was fined $5,000 and also had his license put on probation for a year. WEG is not seeking additional penalties for McKnight, who last year was a finalist in the Sovereign Award category for top trainer. McKnight has heard whispers about his success in recent years–his horses are winning at over 30%–but has publicly denied any wrongdoing.
In its claim, WEG said the AGCO made several errors in its ruling, which ultimately did not adequately punish Van Arem for his actions, which are considered a breach of the Thoroughbred Racing Rules.
“The consequences are enormous,” the claim states. “Without integrity, the business of horse racing will die because the wagering public will not bet on a product that is not demonstrably fair. Thoroughbred wagering revenues and attendance will decline, the purses will get smaller and wages and profits will decline.”