By T. D. Thornton
On the day that Thoroughbred drug testing nationwide got transferred to the control of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) Authority, Robert Williams, the executive director for the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC), disclosed during that board's monthly meeting that three outstanding Thoroughbred drug positives remain unadjudicated by the commission and are still lingering at various stages in the regulatory process.
That disclosure is not only timely because of the HISA Authority's May 22 implementation of the Anti-Doping and Medication Control program. Monday's news of the three additional unadjudicated tests was important because those unresolved cases were made public nearly two weeks after a brouhaha erupted about 2-year-old champion Forte (Violence) having failed a post-win NYSGC drug test at Saratoga Race Course on Sept. 5, 2022.
The finding of meloxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, in Forte's system wasn't the entirety of that controversy. A more concerning aspect of the issue was that Forte's positive was kept from the public for more than nine months, and wasn't revealed until May 9, 2023, when the New York Times first broke the story, citing as sources “two people who are familiar with the matter but are not authorized to speak about it.”
On May 11, the NYSGC formally announced Forte's disqualification from the Hopeful while imposing fine of $1,000 and 10-day suspension upon trainer Todd Pletcher. Those penalties have been appealed, and both the NYSGC and Pletcher's legal team have bickered back and forth, with each side publicly blaming the other for causing extended delays in the process that involved split sample testing and the scheduling of a stewards' hearing.
Williams described the three other currently unadjudicated drug tests as being in the pipeline “at either qualified, accredited, independent laboratories or awaiting determination through a meeting of the stewards.”
Commissioner John Crotty asked Williams, “Do you have a timeline on resolving them?”
Williams was quick to answer: “I don't know the specifics of any of those cases,” he said.
Crotty responded, “Okay…” before NYSGC chairman Brian O'Dwyer interjected.
“I suspect, Mr. Crotty, given the situation, that we will be very, very diligent in terms of making sure that those things are adjudicated much more promptly,” said O'Dwyer, ending that discussion.
Williams noted that the outstanding Thoroughbred drug positives were current through May 19, but that the NYSGC will retain control over any sampling taken through May 21.
The commission will also maintain its testing obligation in harness racing, “as HISA has yet to address that industry,” Williams said. He added that there are two outstanding Standardbred drug tests awaiting adjudication.
Williams said that the Forte controversy has sparked NYSGC changes to the way it will handle any adjudications that remain under the board's control.
“Changes to the split sample procedure have been instituted to reduce the ability of an affected party to game the system,” Williams said.
“Absent extraordinary circumstances, from now on a trainer advised of a positive drug violation will be afforded no more than two weeks to identify and make arrangements for the split sample to be tested,” Williams said.
“Additionally, upon notification of the split sample result being returned, the stewards' meeting must be conducted within three weeks. If a trainer cannot appear within three weeks' time, they will be deemed to have constructively waived their appearance before the stewards, and the matter will proceed,” Williams said.
After Williams finished giving his report, O'Dwyer said that he wanted to express “my thanks and the thanks of the commission members for setting the record straight in regards to the Pletcher matter.”
O'Dwyer continued: “I think it's very important that, and was quite unfortunate, some of the reporting that came out, [and] the board and commission and our staff needs to be commended for the way that they handled it. I understand there were some time differences. But they did everything they could to give Mr. Pletcher considerable due process, and I'm glad that [Williams] was able to correct the record in that regard.”
Pletcher's attorney, Karen Murphy, had given a contrasting synopsis of the delay to TDN back on May 11.
“One point I want to address up front is that the gaming commission has stated now two or three times that we somehow delayed the process,” Murphy said at that time. “That's a little bit shocking to me because it's false. I don't like government regulators to make false statements. [From] day one, we were on this. This delay is wholly on the gaming commission. It's because they weren't prepared to proceed with the case in a professional, orderly manner.”
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