By T. D. Thornton
The ruled-off trainer John Pimental said Wednesday that he and his wife, Diana, have been “blown away” by the support and offers of assistance they have received in the five days since a TDN story highlighted the life-altering ramifications of John's signing an “admission of rule violations” and “acceptance of consequences” document to settle Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU) allegations stemming from a methamphetamine positive in one of his Monmouth Park trainees.
While being served notice on July 28 of the meth positive, HIWU agents conducted a Monmouth barn and vehicle search of the Pimentals' property, which turned up Levothyroxine. That meant John was charged with two violations of “banned substances” under the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA)'s Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program.
Under the terms of the “case resolution without hearing” that he initially agreed to, John faced a three-year period of ineligibility (18 months per violation) and a fine of $25,000 ($12,500 per violation).
In a series of interviews that led to last week's story, John, 68, and Diana, 65, had detailed to TDN the financial, logistical, and health-related hardships they have endured over the past three months as John attempted to find new work outside of the backstretch.
Working with racehorses has been the only way the couple has known how to make a living for the past 50 years, and John's record on the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) website shows only one previous published violation, a $100 fine from 2015 for not having a foal certificate on file.
The Pimentals also explained how it's been difficult to process the allegedly draconian penalizations that John said he accepted only because he didn't have the money to hire a lawyer to contest the HIWU charges.
The outpouring of support has included offers of financial assistance to fight their case; offers of pro-bono help from a trio of attorneys who specialize in defending horsemen, and offers to re-home the 5-year-old gelding Golovkin (Mshawish), the last remaining racehorse in their stable after eight others owned by a longstanding client got shipped to a different trainer at Delaware Park when John was first provisionally suspended.
The Pimentals told TDN Oct. 25 they are respectfully declining the offers of financial assistance.
But Golovkin vanned out of the Monmouth backstretch on Wednesday at noon, bound for a new home in Kentucky and a to-be-determined second career.
And the Pimentals also said they are considering the offers of free legal help, although at the moment they are content to allow Alan Foreman, an attorney who is the chairman and chief executive of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (THA), to handle their defense.
Foreman recently agreed to work as an ombudsman on behalf of racing industry constituents needing a go-between to deal with HIWU and HISA, and he has thus far managed to get John's signed admission withdrawn so the case can proceed to a hearing.
“People were concerned. That was good to hear,” John said. “There were a bunch of people who offered financial assistance or to set up a GoFundMe for us, but we thanked them and said we don't need any of that.”
Added Diana, who has helped John run his stable and his gate-ponying business since the two were teenagers, “We've been overwhelmed by people calling to want to help us. My phone's practically exploded.”
In the original TDN story about his penalization, John alleged that the 193 picograms-per-milliliter meth positive in Golovkin on May 29 was the result of environmental contamination. He also claimed the container of Levothyroxine found in his truck had been used solely on a 17-year-old pony nicknamed Richard, and not on any racehorses under his care.
Lisa Lazarus, the chief executive officer for the HISA Authority, wrote in a letter published in TDN Oct. 24 that “the article implied that HISA and HIWU are devoid of concern for regular horsemen, are looking to wipe out smaller training operations, and are ignorant to endemic drug use on the backstretch of many racetracks. None of those are true.”
At a different point in her letter, Lazarus pointed out that when drug-testing samples do come up positive, “everyone is treated exactly the same way.” She also wrote that there is “no longer any space for 'he's a good guy'” types of arguments that, under pre-HISA testing protocols, might have reduced penalties or even kept sanctions from being imposed in the first place.
“But the non-discriminatory aspect of the program is sometimes also the worst thing about it,” Lazarus wrote. “Because every positive test is attached to a person. And every person has a story. And some of those stories can be heartbreaking.”
On Wednesday, Lazarus confirmed via email that now that John's withdrawal of admission has been accepted, his notice of sanctions has also been withdrawn by HIWU, and that his provisional suspension has been re-imposed back to where it was before John signed the admission.
Lazarus added that, “If Mr. Pimental is able to work with Alan Foreman to collect information that helps his case, HIWU has the discretion to lift the Provisional Suspension. We will also give Mr. Pimental an opportunity to request and qualify for a Pro Bono lawyer.”
Lazarus said the matter has already been re-initiated before the arbitral body. She estimated “60 days from start to finish” as a ballpark timetable for how long it might take to resolve the matter.
Foreman briefed TDN on the next steps in the case, although he said he preferred to stick to a general synopsis so as not to give away elements of John's defense.
“They are back now to square one,” Foreman said. “I am gathering the facts as any attorney in my capacity would do, and I am putting together a presentation from Mr. Pimental to HIWU in an effort to resolve this case and get him restored to good standing.
“He's requested a hearing, and under the rules, that hearing would be scheduled on a rather expedited basis,” Foreman said. “So my goal is to get this resolved as quickly as possible. The ball is really in our court to provide the information to HIWU [to bring about] an opportunity for a negotiated resolution of the case [and to avoid] arbitration. Because arbitration is expensive, and I don't think it's necessary in this case.”
New home for 'Go-Go'
Golovkin had been claimed for $5,000 on the day he tested positive while finishing last. In the two-month interim that he raced twice for different connections, the gelding again ran last two more times.
The ruling against John voided that claim, so the Pimentals (who owned him) had to take Golovkin back. Given the gelding's recent record, and the fact that he had to sit out a mandated 60-day period of inactivity because of the meth positive, they were having trouble finding anyone at Monmouth who wanted to buy or adopt him.
That changed once the Pimentals' story came out.
“We got a lot of offers,” Diana said of the dark bay with the handsome, half-blazed face. “He's not going to race again. All we want for him is to be able to get out into a field and run and 'be like a horse' again. He'll make somebody else very happy. That's all we want, and it's what he deserves after what he's been through.”
Lauren Carlisle headed the team that included fellow bloodstock businesspeople Radhika Clark and Sarah Thompson, plus Dr. Megan Cassidy of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, to reach out to the Pimentals about taking in Golovkin.
“I read the article and just felt terrible for the situation,” Carlisle said. “They were quoted as saying that the horse had nowhere to go. So we really wanted to fix that as quickly as possible. And a big shout-out to Brook Ledge [Horse Transportation], who is moving him at no charge–a very good deed on their part.
“For now he's going to Radhika's family's farm in Kentucky,” Carlisle continued. “And then Dr. Cassidy is going to do a full exam on him with X-rays, and make sure that everything is good for him to be training for a new career. We'll find him a permanent home after we do all that. So this is basically a kind of landing spot him until we can figure it out.”
Golovkin, who shares a hard-to-pronounce name with the champion boxer Gennadiy Golovkin, already has a new nickname: “We've been calling him 'Go-Go' in our group chat,” Carlisle said.
Richard the pony also will be getting a new home–at least temporarily.
Diana told TDN that the pony, who teamed with John both in escorting horses to the gate and in John's former stints as an outrider, was initially slated to be sold. But trainer Gerald Bennett has agreed to instead take in Richard at Tampa Bay Downs this winter, with the understanding that if John wants him back at some point, he's welcome to have him.
“If things work out with John, maybe he can come back [to Monmouth next season] and outride,” Diana explained. “That's what we're hoping. If things turn around, we really would like to have a good pony that knows his job.”
The Pimentals are on their way to Tampa soon, too. Diana has a job in the racing office there for the upcoming meet, and her doctor has just cleared her to travel after needing to first make sure new medication is working to control the high blood pressure that Diana said she developed during this ordeal.
The couple underscored that they wanted to express gratitude toward everyone who has offered help or had a kind word about their situation.
“There's so many great people out there. You don't even know it until something like this happens to you,” Diana said.