By Dan Ross
Trainer Wesley Ward has been suspended 30 days and fined $500 as a result of Averly Jane (Midshipman) testing positive for the diabetes medication metformin after winning the Kentucky Juvenile S. at Churchill Downs on Apr. 28 last year, according to a recent Kentucky stewards ruling.
Fifteen of those 30 days have been stayed, however, due to Ward's overall record and number of violations, and on condition that the trainer receives no Class A or Class B medication violations over the next year.
Ward will serve the other 15 days of the suspension between Jan. 26 and Feb. 9.
Averly Jane was also disqualified and all purse monies are forfeited, according to the stewards ruling dated Jan. 25.
Not an equine medication, metformin is among the most commonly prescribed human medications in the U.S. It is used in the treatment of type II diabetes, reducing glucose production in the liver and the uptake of glucose by the intestine.
The Association of Racing Commissioners International classify it a Class 2B drug.
According to Ward's attorney, Darrell Vienna, Ward had not administered metformin to Averly Jane and that all the evidence suggests it was a case of environmental contamination.
As such, Vienna said that he presented the following question to the stewards.
“What is more plausible: That a trainer like Ward with an international reputation would have administered or caused to be administered an easily detectable substance with no impact on performance in minute quantities? Or that it resulted from contamination of feed, hay, human contact?”
According to Vienna, “there was not a single bit of evidence on the regulatory side other than the detection of a small amount of this substance in the horse's system.”
That amount, Vienna said, was in the parts per billion.
According to Vienna, the nature of the violation didn't warrant a suspension.
“I searched all the records in the United States and I found two prior cases [of metformin positives] that resulted in $1,000 fines,” Vienna said.
Vienna also explained that in 2019, the Kentucky legislature approved a rule change essentially modifying the trainer absolute insurer rule “by permitting trainers to introduce what they deemed substantial evidence of mitigating circumstances for which a lesser or no penalty would be appropriate.”
The mitigating circumstances in this case, Vienna argued, further supported the rendering of a fine only.
After her win in the Kentucky Juvenile S., Averly Jane had two easy victories in the Skidmore S. at Saratoga and in the Indian Summer S., at Keeneland.
Her last racecourse appearance was a fifth-place finish in the GII Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Averly Jane is owned by Hat Creek Racing, a partnership led by Keeneland's vice president of racing, Gatewood Bell, himself a former Kentucky Horse Racing commissioner.
Over the last 10 years and comprising 4,615 starts, Ward has been penalized for two other medication violations, according to the Thoroughbredrulings website.
The KHRC issued Ward a $500 fine when Arcelor tested positive for methocarbamol after finishing first in the fifth race at Turfway Park on Dec. 2, 2016.
Prior to that, the New York State Gaming Commission served Ward a 30-day suspension and $1,000 fine after Sunset Time tested positive for clenbuterol after finishing third in the second race at Belmont Park on June 20, 2012.
“It happened and that's it,” said Ward, at the time. “I'm responsible for whatever the stewards give me. It is what it is. There are a lot of reasons it took so long for this to get resolved. It's for a medication I used to use to keep the lungs clean and everything working good. Unfortunately, this particular filly went over the permitted level. The rules are different now, and I don't use it at all.”
In June of 2020, the Florida Division of PariMutuel Wagering issued Ward a written warning after Summer Sangria tested positive for omeprazole sulfide, otherwise known as the ulcer medication Gastrogard.