By Bill Finley
Recent backstretch raids staged by the Pennsylvania Racing Commission at Parx have uncovered what Director of Thoroughbred Horse Racing at Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Tom Chuckas described as a “significant amount of contraband” and “items that have no business on the backside.”
Chuckas made the revelations during a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday of the Pennsylvania Racing Commission. The meeting was held over Zoom and a one-minute-and-twenty second segment was captured and posted on Twitter by veterinarian Kathryn Papp. Pennsylvania Racing Commissioner Russell Jones took part in the meeting and confirmed the authenticity of Papp's Twitter post.
“No names were given to us but I know they found a lot of (expletive),” Jones told the TDN. “They found a lot of evidence, syringes, whatever you call that stuff. Whatever it is they found, a lot of stuff that you might think is incriminating.”
Jones said the raid was conducted “over the weekend,” but did not know if it was conducted on Saturday or Sunday or both days.
In what may or may not be a related development, there were 25 scratches from Tuesday's card at Parx, including nine horses who were ordered scratched by the stewards. The stewards' scratches included all three horses entered by trainer Richard Vega.
Chuckas, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, told those on the Zoom call that the investigation was extensive.
“We went through the barn area and the tack rooms,” he said. “We did six solo barn searches, six tack room searches. In addition to that we looked at given grooms' quarters and five external tack rooms. Sixty-six out-of-competition tests were performed. In our enforcement action, I can say without getting into too much detail that a significant amount of contraband was discovered. Dealing with medications, unlabeled compounded or expired…I regret to say they were contraband items that have no business on the backside, with needles and syringes and some other things that we discovered.”
A subsequent request to the racing commission asking for them to release the minutes of Tuesday's session also went unanswered.
“Whatever it is, they found a lot of stuff that you might think is incriminating,” Jones said, adding that “they had a very active weekend.”
Chuckas said he was not at liberty to reveal the names of those trainers who were involved while the investigation is ongoing.
Jones said that the racing commission had not been able to conduct normal investigations during the height of the COVID pandemic and was just now starting to catch up. Chuckas implied that similar investigations at the state's other two Thoroughbred racetracks, Presque Isle Downs and Penn National, were imminent.
“Moving forward, I think it is fair to say that the other tracks will receive the same enforcement action,” he said.
Jones said that he had become concerned that so much time had passed since the last time the commission launched such an investigation.
“I'm thrilled there is something to start with,” Jones said. “I had been impatient. They were great about doing out-of-competition testing in 2019 but in 2020 it was a fraction of what we did before. They're going to be ongoing normal procedure now, as far as out-of-competition testing goes. We've got a lot of stuff that we are working on now that ought to come to fruition. I hope these raids, or whatever you call them, are going to provide something that's worth reporting.”