The Maryland Racing Commission reduced the penalties of two trainers yesterday who had been dealt lengthy suspensions after their horses raced at Pimlico with an illegal drug in their systems.
Trainers Jerry Robb and Mark Shuman had been suspended for 60 days and 40 days, respectively, by the track's stewards after three horses of Robb's and two of Shuman's tested positive for Guanabenz within a six-day period in April. Guanabenz is a banned drug that reduces hypertension and can enhance the performance of racehorses.
Robb and Shuman appealed the suspensions to the racing commission. The four commissioners who heard yesterday's appeal at Pimlico reduced Robb's suspension to 45 days and Shuman's to 30, but then ruled that each trainer would actually have to serve only a 15-day suspension. They also fined Robb $1,500 and Shuman $1,000.
Lou Ulman, commission chairman, explained the rationale this way:
Robb and Shuman both trained horses that won on April 13 and later tested positive for Guanabenz. Their next violations occurred April 17, 18 and 19 with one horse that won and two that finished second.
Each infraction should carry a 15-day suspension, the usual penalty for trainers caught using similar illegal drugs, Ulman said. That added up to 45 days for Robb's three positives and 30 days for Shuman's two.
But then Ulman said that the trainers could serve the suspensions concurrently, meaning that they would be suspended for only 15 days, during which they would be barred from the backstretch. That was because of a delay in notifying the trainers of their initial positives, Ulman said.
The trainers weren't notified of the April 13 infractions until April 20. If they had been notified promptly, Ulman said, they would have had the opportunity of scratching their later horses and avoiding additional positives.
"Justice," said Robb, a veteran trainer of more than 30 years, of the decision. "I think it's been a witch hunt for Michael Gill from the beginning."
Gill, a New Hampshire horse owner, owned four of the five horses that raced on Guanabenz. Gill, a former trainer, was suspended in 1995 in New Hampshire for a drug violation. Subsequent trainers of his horses have been suspended for drug infractions. Through Sunday, Gill is the second-winningest owner in the country with 1,020 victories for earnings of $4,071,000.
Robb and Shuman said they had routinely administered Guanabenz to their horses as a way of reducing tension and the cramping of muscles during training. They said they had always ended the treatments 48 hours before a race. They no longer use the drug, they said.
John Krasnoff, the assistant attorney general who argued the case against the trainers, said that the three stewards, the ruling authorities at the track, considered the positives "very serious infractions" that affected the outcome of five races. Racing authorities in other states had handed down suspensions for Guanabenz positives ranging from 30 days in New York to 120 days in Iowa.
"The stewards believed it was imperative to send that strong message," Krasnoff said.