By Bill Finley
Trainer Joe Sharp has been hit with a 30-day suspension and fined $2,500 by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) after five horses he trained tested positive for the medication levamisole during a 16-day period at Churchill Downs in November, 2019.
Sharp has said that the levamisole was found in an over-the-counter dewormer he purchased and used to treat his horses. He said he consulted with veterinarians before using the product and was told that it complied with pertinent racing and medication regulations.
In addition to the Kentucky positives, eight Sharp-trained horses tested positive at the Fair Grounds around the same time. For the Louisiana violations, Sharp was not suspended, but did have to pay a $1,000 fine for each horse.
The Kentucky commission could have suspended Sharp 150 days, or 30 days for each positive, but decided not to do so because Sharp was not notified of the initial positive before the others occurred.
Sharp's suspension is scheduled to run from Feb. 12 through Mar. 13. However, his attorney, Clark Brewster said that an appeal will be filed and he expects to get a stay of the suspension before Feb. 12.
According to the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) website, levamisole is a Class 2 drug and carries a B penalty. With Class B medication violations, the minimum penalty suggested by the ACRI is a 15-day suspension and a $500 fine for the first violation.
Brewster's defense will rest on his contention that levamisole itself is not a banned substance in Kentucky. Brewster said that levamisole is only prohibited when it metabolizes into a more serious drug, aminorex, which, he said, did not happen in the case of Sharp's horses. Aminorex is a stimulant and, under ARCI classifications is a Class 1 drug.
Brewster also cited a 2015 cause in which the KHRC suspended trainer Daniel Werre for a full year after a levamisole positive. The suspension was reversed by the Franklin Circuit Court, which cited its finding that the KHRC had improperly classified the drug at the time. Werre was eventually given a seven-day suspension.
“The stewards sent out this notice saying [levamisole] is a class B drug,” Brewster said. “Not only is it not a class B, it's not listed at all. They held a hearing where I strongly urged them to dismiss this and they got real quiet. Then they returned a suspension of 30 days and fines. It was truly astonishing, We expect public servants to apply the law based on what is set forth.
Brewster continued, “He was initially denied stalls at the Fair Grounds and owners pulled horses from him. That's all because the stewards issued a notice of positives on him and didn't even understand what was and was not on their list. Once they took that course, they weren't courageous enough to look back and make the right call.”
The five Sharp-trained horses who tested positive in Kentucky are Street Dazzle (Street Sense), Blackberry Wine (Oxbow), Chitto (Into Mischief), Zero Gravity (Orb) and Art Collector (Bernardini). All five have been disqualified. Blackberry Wine and Art Collector won the races in questions, Art Collector was later taken away from Sharp and turned over to Tom Drury. He went on to win the GII Blue Grass S. and the Ellis Park Derby.