By T. D. Thornton
The West Virginia-based trainer Dennis VanMeter won a Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) arbitration judgment Sept. 26 that wipes out a two-year negligence suspension and $25,000 fine related to an adverse analytical finding for the banned substance isoxsuprine in a shipper, Templement (Flatter), who ran sixth and last in an allowance sprint at Thistledown in Ohio on June 7.
Although the final order signed by arbitrator Laura Abrahamson noted that VanMeter did not contest the isoxsuprine finding itself and that he must still bear responsibility for that violation found by HISA's Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU), she also wrote that “this is an exceptional case” and that “Mr. VanMeter was not at fault and not negligent in preventing isoxsuprine from entering Templement's system.”
Despite its banned substance classification, isoxsuprine is commonly prescribed therapeutically in horses to treat navicular disease or laminitis. It relaxes the smooth muscle surrounding small blood vessels, causing vasodilation and potentially increasing blood flow to hooves.
The arbitrator wrote that HISA's banned classification for isoxsuprine is in opposition to the Association of Racing Commissioners International classification that had been in place prior to the HIWU oversight of the sport, which began just 16 days before Templement's positive test.
The arbitrator took into account testimony that VanMeter shipped Templement into the stall of an acquaintance, John Brown, who is a Thistledown-based trainer, and that VanMeter was unaware his 6-year-old mare would be occupying the same stall that had been recently been vacated by a stable pony owned by Brown.
VanMeter was also unaware that Brown had a valid prescription for isoxsuprine to use on that stable pony, Bucky. The report stated that Bucky had been taking that prescribed medication mixed with his feed “almost daily for five years.”
Also, at the time Templement was shipped to Thistledown to race, VanMeter was similarly unaware that a different covered horse trained by Brown would subsequently, on June 27, trigger an adverse analytical finding for isoxsuprine.
“Mr. VanMeter, who has been training horses for more than 40 years, and currently trains nine Covered Horses, acknowledged it was his responsibility to know what his Covered Horses are permitted to be given and what they are not permitted to be given,” the arbitrator wrote.
“Mr. VanMeter testified that he sent Templement to his friend John Brown's stall in Barn 26 instead of to the receiving barn at Thistledown on June 7, 2023, because he had recently had open heart surgery and John Brown's stall was much closer to the paddock,” the arbitrator wrote.
“At the Hearing, Mr. VanMeter testified that he did not know Mr. Brown's pony Bucky was taking isoxsuprine and did not learn that any of Mr. Brown's horses had tested positive for isoxsuprine until after June 7, 2023. Mr. VanMeter acknowledged on cross-examination that he did not ask Mr. Brown which horse's stall Templement would be occupying and did not ask Mr. Brown if any of Mr. Brown's horses were taking Isoxsuprine or any other Banned Substances,” the arbitrator wrote.
On July 6, Templement's post-race sample returned adverse analytical findings for both isoxsuprine and phenylbutazone, and HISA imposed an immediately effective provisional suspension on VanMeter.
On July 11, VanMeter waived his right to request testing of Templement's B Samples and accepted the penalty proposed for the phenylbutazone finding. As a result, his arbitration hearing did not address any aspect of the phenylbutazone finding or the consequences therefrom.
The arbitrator's report stated that, “Mr. VanMeter is a 76-year-old Vietnam veteran classified as disabled. He has been made indigent as a result of his Provisional suspension. He could not afford the fees involved in having a Provisional hearing so he [remained] suspended with no provision for a stay under RISA rules. There is no provision for someone like Mr. VanMeter to proceed in forma pauperis under RISA rules.”
The report stated that in instances in where a violation of HISA's Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) program is established, “the Respondent may be entitled to a mitigation of the applicable Consequences, only where he establishes on a balance of probabilities that he acted with either No Fault or Negligence, or No Significant Fault or Negligence.”
HIWU had argued a that Mr. VanMeter “is not eligible for relief” because “he cannot establish how the isoxsuprine entered Templement's system and ” cannot establish by a balance of the probabilities that the isoxsuprine in Templement's system resulted from the horse being placed in a stall previously occupied by the pony 'Bucky' who had a prescription for isoxsuprine.”
HIWU further asserted that “Mr. VanMeter has not adequately substantiated his theory of contamination and that [expert evidence] demonstrates that the likelihood of contamination causing 471 ng/mL of isoxsuprine in Templement's urine was 'remote.'”
The arbitrator saw it differently.
“Considering the totality of the evidence, the Arbitrator finds that Mr. VanMeter established by a balance of the probabilities that the source of the isoxsuprine in Templement's system was contamination from Bucky's stall,” the report stated.
“In this case, although HIWU criticizes Mr. VanMeter' s failure to ask Mr. Brown if any of his horses were taking isoxsuprine or any Banned Substance, the Arbitrator considers that [VanMeter] did not have any reason to suspect Mr. Brown was giving any of his horses isoxsuprine.,” the report stated.
“Even if he had known, [the] Arbitrator finds Mr. VanMeter would still not have had any reason to suspect that Templement could come into contact with and have ingested or absorbed isoxsuprine from contamination in Bucky's stall, which was cleaned before Templement was put into it,” the report stated.
The arbitrator wrote that Templement's period of Ineligibility of 60 days, commencing on July 6, is confirmed. But since that 60-day period has already run its course, so “to be reinstated Templement need only be subject to a Negative Finding from a Re-Entry test administered by HIWU.”
In fact, Templement has already been entered to run, in a Mountaineer Park allowance race on Oct. 1.