Schoenthal Meth Case Resolved With 15-Day Suspension

Phil Schoenthal with his son Emerson | courtesy Phil Schoenthal

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The Phil Schoenthal pair of methamphetamine positives at Laurel Park, announced by HIWU on April 9, have been resolved with a 15-day sanction for the trainer, eight days of which have already been served, according to HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus.

Schoenthal was issued a provisional suspension after two of his horses, Prodigy Doll and Determined Driver, tested positive at Laurel on January 28 and February 9.

“I was informed today by HIWU that they took all of his evidence into consideration,” said HISA chief Lisa Lazarus, who said that the groom who took each horse in the paddock and an exercise rider in his barn both tested positive for meth, and that Schoenthal had already pre-emptively instituted a workplace program to warn employees about the dangers of environmental contamination.

“The HIWU team was really impressed with that,” said Lazarus. “What we've said was that if you made efforts to reduce your risk, that would mitigate your sanctions. That was essentially the rationale.”

Said Schoenthal, “I am pleased at the outcome. There were some very tenuous moments here in my week that were very trying for me, but I believed from the onset that common sense would dictate the outcome and I'd get a fair and equitable outcome, and I did.”

Schoenthal said that substance abuse on the backstretch was something that everyone in racing had to deal with. “I think the takeaway from my case, if it can serve to help others, is that you can't stop bad things from happening one hundred percent around your horses,” he said. “The onus is on us to be able to prove to HISA and HIWU that we did all that we could do to prevent this from happening and if you can prove that you did, I believe they're going to be fair with you.”

Schoenthal said that he had taken some valuable lessons away from the Jonathan Wong ruling, in February. Wong was suspended for two years and fined $25,000 after one of his horses tested positive for metformin. Had he not read the entire ruling, said Schoenthal, he would have made the same mistakes. “Obviously, as a concerned industry participant I've read every ruling and case that comes down the pike, and his ruling was a 50-page document that was posted on the website. I never met him, but I read his defenses, and it occurred to me if it were me, I'd have all the same defenses.”

“He took a polygraph test. I would have googled nearest polygraph expert and thought I was doing the right thing. He had a sworn affidavit saying his assistant told them not to pee in stalls. That wasn't good enough, and I would have done the same thing. I read that, digested it, and realized, `you know what? In the old regime, you would walk into the stewards' office and talk to a retired trainer or jockey who knew how the backstretch worked and were understanding with those things and believed you.' HIWU was given a set of rules they did not write. Their only their job is to enforce them. They are white-collar, smart, educated people, and come from a world where an employer has drug policies and HR policies. For the last 100 years, they have not been part of our world.”

“I sat down that weekend, and typed up a whole manual for my employees. Don't take your prescription medications at the barn, and if you have to, wash your hands. Don't pee in the stalls. Don't allow friends, families, and strangers to touch the horses. We bought some pizzas, and went through all of these things in English and Spanish, and had everyone sign the paper that they understood. We also put up signs that said don't pee in the stalls and tried to take a very proactive approach to the things that were in our control to mitigate the risk.”

Lazarus said that the manual and the meeting went a long way to prove that Schoenthal had taken steps to lessen his risk. Schoenthal said he called Alan Foreman right away, had everyone in the barn tested, and found the groom and the exercise rider tested positive for meth. “As such,” he said. “I could prove a clear path.”

“I have had a wonderful experience dealing with HIWU,” said Schoenthal. “They have been nothing but professional and helpful. I spoke with Lisa Lazarus and Ben Mosier several times. I told Lisa, `look, at the end of the day my employees tested positive for meth. I'm not trying to say here I deserve zero punishment and should be exonerated. I accept and admit that there is some part that my failures played in this.' I was prepared to take some days. The investigators who served me with the notice of the first positive were nice guys who treated me with respect and fairness. I do understand the rules are the rules and they're just enforcing the rules, but we still need to have some further conversation about what rules need to be changed. We need to get together as horsemen to see how we can make this better.”

In the end, said Schoenthal, his story should serve as a warning to others, just as Wong's did to him.

“This can happen to anybody,” he said. “There is nobody who is immune to a horse coming up positive. There's a lot of work to be done and I believe from talking to HISA that they are open to it. I was very grateful to HISA and HIWU, Lisa Lazarus, and their general counsel that they were very willing to listen to me.”

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