By T. D. Thornton
Trainer Linda Rice has been suspended 14 days and fined $2,000 by the New York State Gaming Commission after a filly under her care returned a positive test for the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone following a 9 1/2-length win as the 4-5 favorite at Aqueduct Racetrack more than eight months ago.
Rice has appealed the Sept. 28 ruling, so she has been granted a stay of those penalties pending a final resolution.
The NYSGC also made it public on Friday that Rice will be appearing before the commission for a separate matter when the board conducts its monthly meeting this coming Tuesday.
Rice's name appears on the just-released agenda for the Oct. 3 meeting for an adjudication of her “improper practices” case that has persisted at the commission level and in the New York courts for more than two years.
In 2021, the NYSGC fined Rice $50,000 and revoked her license for three years after investigating claims that Rice received favorable treatment from the New York Racing Association and that the racing office was releasing to her the names and past performances of horses that had already been entered in races, giving her an unfair advantage.
It was further alleged that Rice had paid racing officials in exchange for the information, a charge she denied. She did, however, admit to routinely giving members of the racing department, as well as the gate crew, Christmas presents.
On June 8, 2023, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled that the three-year banishment imposed by the NYSGC was “entirely unwarranted.”
But that same court also upheld the commission's determination that the “improper practices” rule had been violated, and ordered the matter back to the NYSGC to reassess the penalty “with the constraint that any reassessed penalty cannot contain a license revocation.”
Rice's Jan. 21, 2023, bute penalty was triggered by Afleet Arlene (Afleet Alex), who is owned by Winning Move Stable and has been unraced since that victory. A disqualification from the win and a purse redistribution from the $16,000 claimer ($15,400 winning purse) was mandated by the under-appeal ruling.
The ruling stated that the bute finding was “in excess of the quantitative threshold” of 0.3 mcg/ml in plasma.
The relatively long time that the NYSGC's drug-test findings linger behind the scenes prior to a ruling being issued has been an issue of concern in 2023, with some cases still resurfacing even after the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act Authority took over as the sport's nationwide testing entity back on May 22.
Back on May 11, trainer Todd Pletcher was fined $1,000 and suspended 10 days after tests revealed that his trainee Forte (Violence) tested positive for meloxicam following a win in the GI Hopeful S. on Sept. 5, 2022, at Saratoga Race Course.
The length of the delay made headlines because in the interim between the Hopeful S. and the ruling, Forte won the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was voted the Eclipse Award champion of his division, had won two other graded stakes, and was the favorite for the GI Kentucky Derby before being scratched the morning of the race with a right front foot bruise.
Another Pletcher trainee, Capensis (Tapit), triggered a bute finding in a Saratoga post-race test on July 30, 2022, but that ruling (14-day suspension, $2,000 fine) was not made public until 10 ½ months later, on June 11, 2023. Pletcher is currently appealing both cases.
In the ensuing debate over why New York's positives take so long to come to light, regulators have blamed trainers for “repeated procedural delays” in getting split samples tested, while horsemen have accused the commission of needlessly dragging out the process and not being responsive or timely in responding to scheduling requests.
At the May 22, 2023, NYSGC meeting, it was disclosed that three outstanding, pre-HISA Thoroughbred drug positives remained unadjudicated by the commission and were still lingering at various stages in the regulatory process.
When commissioner John Crotty asked what the timeline was for resolving those cases, NYSGC chairman Brian O'Dwyer told him that in light of the scrutiny related to the Forte delay, he suspected that the commission “will be very, very diligent in terms of making sure that those things are adjudicated much more promptly.”
It turns out that Rice's bute finding was one of those then-undisclosed cases. It took more than eight months from the date of the alleged violation until a ruling was issued.