Wong Suspended for Metformin; `Our Game Has Been Hijacked' Says Attorney

Jonathan Wong | Benoit

by Sue Finley and Stefanie Grimm

The Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit has provisionally suspended trainer Jonathan Wong after one of his horses tested positive for a banned substance last month.

Heaven and Earth (Gormley) broke her maiden at Indiana Grand June 1 but subsequently tested positive for the prescription drug metformin, a type 2 diabetes treatment.

Wong was notified that his horses will need to be moved to the care of another trainer and potentially faces up to a two-year suspension and a $25,000 fine.

While metformin is a permitted medication by the U. S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for humans in athletic competition, the National Institutes of Health published a study indicating it has an effect on athletic performance. In a study of 10 men, they determined that “time to exhaustion was significantly higher after metformin than placebo ingestion,” and that “metformin improved performance and anaerobic alactic contribution during high-intensity exercise.”

Wesley Ward is currently serving a 15-day suspension for a metformin positive in a July 15, 2022 race at Monmouth. His attorney, Drew Mollica, said that the Monmouth stewards did not impose a significant fine or suspension because they agreed the metformin positive was the result of contamination.

Wong has retained attorney Alan Pincus.

“Jonathan Wong has a prescription for metformin,” he said. “It is one of the most widely prescribed drugs for humans with diabetes. He uses it, and apparently, he inadvertently contaminated his horse. So they give him the notice yesterday, on a holiday weekend, you're out of horse racing. `Get rid of your horses.' We have requested a split sample and a provisional hearing, but since you're not allowed the data pack from the lab until the split comes back, it makes it very difficult. In fact, their whole system makes it very difficult.”

On Thursday, the TDN published a report saying that HISA had temporarily suspended full enforcement of their intra-articular joint injections rules. Under HISA's rules as written, trainers are prohibited from giving their horse intra-articular joint injections within 14 days prior to the post-time of a race, and within seven days prior to any timed and reported workout. According to HISA Chief Executive Lisa Lazarus, between 15 and 20 trainers have breached the rule surrounding intra-articular joint injections prior to a workout. The reason HISA decided to temporarily modify its enforcement of the rule was due to “confusion” among trainers about the specifics of the rules related to workouts, Lazarus said.

“It's a nightmare,” he continued. “It's unconstitutional. It's unfair. And our game has been hijacked by a bunch of know-nothings posing like they know what they're doing. Lisa Lazarus waved her mighty hand and told 20 trainers who have violated the intra-articular injection rule, `I'm going to let you go.' Even though there is nothing in the regulations allowing her to do so. I imagine when the names of those people come (public), there will be some pretty privileged people. But unfortunately, Jonathan Wong is not one of them. She said the trainers were confused. But confusion is not a defense to strip liability. It's hypocritical. It's not in the regulations, and it just shows they don't know what they're doing. None of it makes sense. And no one will say `boo.' ”

Pincus said that this was the second such case he has had.

“The first one I had was Mario Dominguez,” said Pincus. Dominguez's horse Petulant Delight tested positive for cobalt May 24 at Parx. “Cobalt and the old ARCI guidelines calls it a positive at 25 parts per billion, but since cobalt is in all horses at all times, they say if you have between 25 and 49 parts per billion, the trainer should just get a warning letter. Unfortunately for Mario, if it had happened three days earlier, he gets a warning, but (now), he's thrown out of racing. They give you the notice. You're out. Horses have to be transferred to a new trainer that has nothing to do with you. You lose your owners. You lose your stalls and you lose your livelihood.”

In Dominguez's case, Pincus said that Dominguez asked for a split sample and was asked to send $2,000. He said seven months earlier, Pincus had a case where the same split sample was $750. “So the gouging begins,” said. “He is indigent, and they took away his only means of support, and like most trainers he's living month to month.” He said that Pincus had been unable to afford the fees for the provisional hearing, and had been asked for over $4,000 for the hearing. “They have put a monetary barrier toward someone getting due process,” he said. “We are now 19 days in, and he has not been charged with anything.”

Pincus said that the lack of due process “sickens” him.

“You take a person who has worked their whole life. They're not out there robbing a 7-11. They're out there working seven days a week to try to build something. You're telling me that some person comes to you on a holiday weekend and says `good luck in your next career.' You've not been charged with anything. You have something that would have resulted in some small penalty–as well as it should. But it's going to happen more and more and more, but the idea that you let your friends off because they were confused? It sickens me. This is the game I have been in my whole life. They're an occupying force, and no one will stand up to them. But (trainers) are playing Russian roulette every time they go to the test barn.”

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