Maryland racing officials have suspended three trainers for doping violations, including a ban of more than a year for Pimlico-based Hector Garcia and a 120-day ban for Scott Lake, who runs one of the most successful barns at Laurel Park.
All three trainers ran horses that tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol in races at Laurel Park in December and January. Garcia also had a horse test positive for the sedative xylazine and will be banned from training in Maryland until March 2016.
The cluster of suspensions handed down by the Maryland Racing Commission followed a quiet 2014 in which only one trainer was penalized for a medical violation. The state began operating under new drug testing rules, shared by seven other states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, at the start of last year.
Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, said he couldn't speculate on the reason for the sudden rash of violations. But he said the penalties show the testing system is working.
Stanozolol has been a controversial drug in the racing world, with some veterinarians continuing to recommend it for therapeutic use despite the fact Maryland and other states have imposed stricter testing standards for the anabolic steroid. Maryland used to allow horses to run with low levels of stanozolol in their blood.
Of the suspended trainers, A. Ferris Allen received the lightest penalty — a $1,000 fine and a 30-day ban with 15 days suspended if he doesn't commit another violation over the next three years. He has filed an appeal with the Maryland Racing Commission.
Garcia received the harshest penalty because he had three horses test positive for stanozolol and one for xylazine between early December and mid-January. He faces suspensions for each violation and an additional suspension because he accumulated 10 medical violation points under a system designed to punish repeat offenders.
Lake had two horses test positive for stanozolol in December and faces a longer penalty because he also had a horse test positive in Pennsylvania last year. He plans to appeal the penalties.
"It just threw me for a loop," Lake said, noting the confusion over stanozolol and what he perceives as inconsistent punishments for the three trainers who received suspensions.
Lake said he has "mixed feelings" about the state's punishment system, which he regards as disproportionately hard on trainers who run the busiest barns.
All horses that tested positive were retroactively disqualified from their races, and purses will be redistributed based on the new results.