Vets Who Say They Thought They Were Following HIWU Rules Now Face Lengthy Suspensions

Craig Robertson | courtesy Craig Robertson

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When Dr. Barbara Hippie drove through the backstretch gates at Mahoning Valley Race Course last September, she knew she had some substances and medications on her truck that were banned by the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU). But she said she thought she had no reason to worry.

She said she knew the banned medications were not to be used with any covered Thoroughbred racing or training at an Ohio racetrack. Hippie, part of a three-person practice based in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, has a vast practice and treats many non-race horses at farms spread across Ohio and West Virginia. Because horses on those farms are not covered by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) no restrictions were in place for using those medications on farm animals.

But could they be on her truck when she entered a racetrack? That was the key question.

According to Hippie's lawyer Craig Roberston, HISA Chief of Science Dr. Mary Scollay visited several racetracks to educate veterinarians on the rules regarding what could and could not be on their trucks. He said they were told that it was permissible to have otherwise illegal medications on their trucks as long as there was “compelling justification.” Robertson said that Scollay said on multiple occasions that racetrack veterinarians who also worked at outside farms could possess banned substances as that was a matter of compelling justification.

According to Roberston, during a March, 2023 seminar in Oklahoma, Scollay said the following: “(if) veterinarians are practicing also on a population of non-Covered horses, they're taking care of quarter horses, or they've got a country practice part-time they are able to possess a Banned Substance because we don't have control over those horses… But at the end of the day if someone is practicing out in the country, we don't have the authority to control the medications they administer or carry for non-Covered horses.”

But soon after she entered the Mahoning Valley backstretch, Hippie's truck was searched by HIWU investigators. Because of what Scollay had told several veterinarians, Hippie said she still wasn't concerned and went about her business, having no idea what was to come. Eight days later she was notified that four banned substances (Pitcher Plant Extract, Levothyroxine, Isoxsuprine, and Clodronate) were found on her truck and that she was being provisionally suspended. She admits she was in possession of the medications, but can't understand why she was being charged when she was told she had permission to keep the drugs on her truck when entering a racetrack covered by HISA. For each banned medication, she faces a two-year suspension and a $25,000 fine. The incident could wind up costing her eight years and $100,000.

“She was trying to do the right thing and follow the rules,” said Hippie's attorney, Craig Robertson. “She had raised the question regarding if she could have these medications on her truck and the answer was that she could. She relied on that. Now they're charging her with a violation.”

At roughly the same time investigators were checking Dr. Hippie's truck at Mahoning Valley, a separate team at Thistledown was examining the truck of Dr. Scott Shell, who was in the same practice as Hippie. They found three banned medications on his truck: Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), Isoxsuprine, and Clodronate (a type of bisphosphonate).

Dr. Margaret Smyth, the third member of the vet practice in Chagrin Falls, had her truck searched on Oct. 4 at Thistledown. Two banned substances were found, Levothyroxine and Pitcher Plant Extract.

At the time, Smyth had no idea that her two partners had been busted by HIWU. Persons accused of drugs violations by HIWU do not learn overnight that they are being charged. Smyth was caught bringing banned substances on the tracks before Shell and Hippie had been notified of their suspensions.

To the lawyers representing the three vets, the case isn't complicated. The doctors had the prohibited medications on their trucks because they were told by HISA's Chief of Science that it was okay to do so.

“Their defense is simply that they were told they could possess them because they had farm practices and treated horses that were outside of HIWU's jurisdiction,” Robertson said. “They claim that the statements of Dr. Scollay were unequivocal: if you have a farm practice, you can possess Banned Substances.”

The process of adjudicating the fines and suspensions is still in the early stages. Dr. Shell had a Provisional Suspension hearing, and his suspension was not lifted by the hearing officer. Currently, he is not able to practice on Covered horses Dr. Hippie's suspension was lifted after a Provisional Suspension hearing, and, as a result, HIWU did not impose a Provisional Suspension against Dr. Smyth. However, these are just preliminary steps. Hearings will be held regarding the incidents involving the three vets on June 17, 18 and 19, at which time they could be fully exonerated or suspensions and fines could be ordered.

So why did HIWU provisionally suspend Hippie and Shell? Did Mary Scollay tell vets who also work outside the racing industry that these drugs could be on their trucks on the grounds of a racetrack? We asked HIWU, who said that just having an outside practice wasn't enough to meet the compelling justification requirement, and that further proof will be examined at those hearings.

“As per Rule 3214(a), Possession of a Banned Substance is an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) `unless there is compelling justification for such Possession,'” HIWU Director of Communications & Outreach Alexa Ravit said in an email. “Dr. Scollay advised veterinarians that the treatment of non-Covered Horses could be a basis for showing `compelling justification' for possession of Banned Substances. However, the Covered Person has the burden of proving a `compelling justification,' which is a defense to a 3214(a) ADRV Charge.

“On its own, a Covered Person's verbal statement that they have a non-Covered Horse practice is not sufficient proof to establish the compelling justification. To properly establish the compelling justification defense, the Covered Person needs to demonstrate the existence of their non-Covered Horse practice with supporting or corroborating evidence, such as treatment records, day logs, prescription records, billing invoices, or any other documentation or evidence that demonstrates that the Banned Substance(s) in question were possessed to treat non-Covered Horses.

“Each case is handled based upon the specific facts and circumstances, and 'compelling justification' can be established by myriad circumstances so long as there is actual, credible evidence to support the defense.”

Robertson isn't buying it.

“Now they're trying to backtrack from what Dr. Scollay said,” Robertson said. “That's a long detailed answer but you have to look at her quotes, and the words she actually said at these seminars, when she was going around the country before HISA went into effect. She gave the same presentation and said the same thing everywhere. If you look at what she said at these seminars, she didn't say any of that. She didn't say, 'Oh, hey, you have to prove you treat farm horses and you have to show us records, etc., etc. She just said if you have a a non-covered practice you're allowed to posses these banned substances. Period. I don't think anyone is going to argue that my clients don't have a non-covered practice. They treat horses at farms and on the racetrack. What they're trying to do is backtrack from what Mary Scollay said at these seminars. If they wanted it done this way, what they needed to do was to come out with a pronouncement and say, 'Just so you know, here is how were going to interpret compelling justification going forward.' But that's not at all what she said.

“What's not fair is that people got swept up in this because they relied on what Dr. Scollay said. These people are facing penalties that could ruin their career and force them into bankruptcy.”

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