By T. D. Thornton
Natalia Lynch, a Belmont Park-based trainer who has been licensed since 2020, has been penalized with a four-year suspension and a $50,000 fine after a Nov. 9 Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU) arbitration judgment found her to be in violation of two separate anti-doping rules, one for the presence of a banned substance (Altrenogest) in a horse, and another for possession of a different prohibited drug (Thyro-L).
Lynch's attorney, John Mac Hayes, told TDN Monday that the trainer plans to appeal the arbitration result to a Federal Trade Commission administrative law judge.
A post-race drug screening revealed Altrenogest in Motion to Strike (Competitive Edge) after Lynch shipped the gelding to Monmouth Park for a June 24 race.
Motion to Strike ran fourth as the 7-10 favorite, and a $5,000 claim was subsequently voided after the HIWU test results came back positive.
Altrenogest is sold under the several brand names, including Regu-Mate. It is used in veterinary medicine to suppress or synchronize estrus in female horses and pigs.
The website of the National Library of Medicine states that Altrenogest is “a commonly used progestogen for the suppression of oestrus and associated distracting behaviors that interfere with training and performance of female racehorses.”
The website also notes that Altrenogest is “structurally similar to the anabolic androgenic steroid.”
However, Matt Hegarty of DRF.com, who was first to report on Lynch's penalties, pointed out a notable coincidence regarding Lynch's Nov. 9 arbitration judgment and a separate document released by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) Nov. 13 regarding proposed changes to the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) program: The HISA Authority, Hegarty wrote, wants to reclassify Altrenogest as a controlled substance instead of its more severe “banned” status, “with recommended penalties starting at a fine of $500.” (The status change for Altrenogest was just one among numerous proposed rules changes outlined here.)
According to the decision written by arbitrator Bernetta Bush, a retired judge, when a HIWU investigator met Lynch at Belmont on July 20 to notify her of the Altrenogest adverse analytical finding, a search of the vehicle Lynch was driving revealed a container of Thyro-L, which is also banned under the ADMC rules.
Lynch had argued that the Altrenogest positive was cross-contamination as a result of Regu-Mate lawfully being administered to a filly that was supposedly housed in the stall next to Motion to Strike.
As for the Thyro-L, Lynch stated that earlier in the spring, she attempted to discard that newly banned substance by giving it to her mother. Yet she did not realize the drug had remained in her mother's vehicle instead of being thrown away. According to the arbitrator's report, Lynch said she was only driving her mother's vehicle on July 20 because she had lost the keys to her own car.
The arbitrator didn't buy the reasoning in either argument.
“Taken as a whole, Trainer Lynch has presented mere speculation, rather than competent evidence, regarding the source of the Altrenogest,” Bush wrote.
“[T]he uncontested evidence provided by Gregory Pennock, an investigator for the Agency whose testimony the Arbitrator credits as consistent with the record and not disputed with competent evidence, establishes that [the filly] was several–five to seven–stalls away from the Covered Horse, and that [the filly] had not been administered Altrenogest for five days before the day the sample was collected from [Motion to Strike],” Bush wrote.
“The record establishes that Altrenogest is administered orally and would have to be administered directly into the horse's mouth for contamination to occur, and that the amount detected in the sample is consistent with ingestion within 24 hours.”
Bush's ruling continued: “In connection with attempting to skirt liability, Trainer Lynch appears to have made many misrepresentations or inconsistent statements of fact which detract from the overall credibility of her testimony…. More specifically, regarding the Rules, the Arbitrator finds that Trainer Lynch bears significant fault for the presence of Altrenogest. This is not a case of simple negligence.
“Not only has Trainer Lynch failed to show any benign manner in which the substance entered the Covered Horse (a critical failure), but even if she had, Trainer Lynch had (and breached) a clear and unmistakable duty to protect the Covered Horse from any cross-contamination and otherwise comply with the Rules. No evidence presented mitigates the responsibility placed on Trainer Lynch by the Rules she is charged with disobeying.”
Taking up the charge of the Thyro-L, the arbitrator noted that Lynch had argued that her possession was not intentional, that she “wasn't trying to cheat,” and that none of the horses under her care had ever tested positive for that substance.
“Trainer Lynch offers many arguments to escape liability or mitigate the consequences of her unlawful possession, but none are persuasive such that she can carry her burden,” Bush wrote.
Hayes, Lynch's lawyer, classified the arbitrator's penalties as “unreasonably harsh.”
In a series of emailed bullet points, Hayes told TDN that the arbitrator “improperly discounted” expert testimony that was presented in Lynch's defense.
Hayes wrote that the arbitrator allegedly also “ignored the Federal Rules of Evidence and Civil Procedure” that have been established by the U.S. Supreme Court and instead “relied on International Law wholly inapplicable in federal court proceedings.”
Hayes also wrote that Regu-Mate is “not a doping agent” and that “no evidence of doping exists.”
Hayes added that the arbitrator allegedly “completely ignored” a different Regu-Mate positive “in a different horse who resided in the same barn where Natalia's horse had stood before racing.”
Hayes further claimed that “HIWU's own expert testified HIWU should have investigated the two positives coming from the same barn to determine if they might be related.”
According to a 2020 profile written by the Monmouth Park press office, Lynch, a Maryland native, had been enrolled in nursing school at Towson University when she started galloping horses a few years ago.
Lynch originally wanted to become a jockey, but switched her aspirations to training, the profile stated. She worked as an assistant to Brittany Russell, Jeremiah Englehart, and Ray Handal prior to getting licensed as a trainer, going out on her own three years ago when owner Al Gold offered to let her train nine horses from his Gold Square, LLC, stable.