‘This Is No Mistake’: Louisiana Commissioners Lengthen Penalties For Trainers In Zilpaterol Cases
by Natalie Voss
Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.
Racing commissioners in Louisiana took penalties for zilpaterol overages one step farther in a lengthy meeting April 26, extending the already-significant suspensions handed out by stewards a few weeks earlier.
The commission considered eight positives from trainer Rosendo Valdez, four from Lanny Keith, four from Manuel Pizana, three from Manuel Macias, and two from Fernando Lopez. The overages were part of a flood of recent zilpaterol positives in the state.
Zilpaterol is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in horses. Instead, it is a drug approved for use in beef cattle to promote weight gain and lean muscle mass. It’s commonly administered as a feed-through product when given to cows.
This is our third edition in a daily diary series following trainer George Leonard’s first trip to the Breeders’ Cup with California Angel. Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
It may be the first time George Leonard has brought a horse to Del Mar, but he managed to find a familiar face on the West Coast. Leonard left his regular exercise riders back home with his Indiana Grand string, and picked up the services of jockey Chester Bonnet to help him work California Angel ahead of her run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Bonnet and Leonard go way back, to the days when both were still in their home state of Louisiana. Leonard transferred to Indiana and Kentucky, and Bonnet came to California to be nearer to his son.
The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, together with state affiliates in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia (Mountaineer) have filed a federal civil suit in an attempt to put the brakes on the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA). The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, names the Federal Trade Commission and several of its employees, as well as the people tasked with forming the Nominating Committee for the new federal authority.
The suit seeks to have HISA and a number of its elements declared unconstitutional, to enjoin defendants from taking any action to implement HISA, as well as nominal damages of $1 and compensatory damages of any fees charged to horsemen by the new authority.
The lawsuit is being handled by The Liberty Justice Center, a non-profit legal center “that represents clients at no charge and was founded to fight against political privilege,” according to its press release about the case.
Much has been written through the centuries about the process of training horses, much of it specific to the type of work a horse is meant to do. In a recent webinar hosted by the British organization World Horse Welfare however, experts reminded horse owners that it’s critical to take into account the way horses learn and process information when setting up a training program for them, regardless of the job they’re intended to do.
Dr. Gemma Pearson, veterinarian and equine behaviorist, said that horses do not learn the way we do. As a species, they have what Pearson called “limited mental capacity” which isn’t to say they aren’t intelligent, simply that they learn best when complex tasks or situations are broken down into very simple steps where it’s clear what they’re being asked. Pearson used complex dressage movements as an example. Many of them start with a horse learning two different cues from a rider’s leg — speed up, or lengthen stride. It helps horses to feel the rider use different part of the leg for each request, so it’s clear what’s being asked. The same is true for rein cues, which can be broken down into different but related questions. As a horse’s training advances, a rider can combine these clear, well-learned instructions for more complicated results.
A number of questions still surround Justify’s left hind foot ahead of the 143rd Preakness Stakes
It’s no secret that the proximal sesamoid bones, which form the back part of the pastern, are a big vulnerability for racehorses. Fractures of the sesamoid bones or failures of the suspensory ligament apparatus that holds them in place are associated with 30 to 50 percent of fatal injuries in Thoroughbred racehorses. So, while we wait for better methods to detect impending injury to those structures, how do we better protect those bones?
Farrier Steve Stanley, who has worked on racing Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds for some four decades, offered a few suggestions at a recent virtual edition of the Tex Cauthen Memorial Seminar focusing on racing safety.
Gastric ulcers in horses have been a problem for trainers, owners, and managers for years now, and studies suggest a majority of racehorses and performance horses suffer from them. As a result, they’ve been a topic of much academic research in the past five years.
Dr. Ben Sykes, assistant professor of equine internal medicine at Massey University, sat down with the Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation recently to give the public an idea of what we’ve learned in the past five years and what he and other researchers plan to focus on in the next five.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture is proceeding with cases against two people associated with a well-known kill pen operation in the state. Hearings for Jacob Thompson and Tara Sanders were postponed from an October meeting of the state’s Board of Animal Health until its next regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 3.
Earlier this year, the Department asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against Gary Thompson and Jacob Thompson, both of Vernon Parish, to stop them from buying and selling livestock. The order was also designed to prevent anyone from acting as a livestock dealer on the Thompsons’ behalf. According to the state’s complaint, both Thompsons had acted in the capacity of livestock dealers — buying horses and cattle and selling them within 30 days of purchase — while they did not hold dealer licenses in Louisiana.
Charges from mid-September state Jacob Thompson is alleged to have committed ten violations of state regulations requiring agents and dealers to be licensed by the Board of Animal Health and ten violations of a different regulation requiring dealers to file a surety instrument with the state in order to operate.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Louisiana Board of Animal Health have filed documents in court to limit the operations a well-known bail pen in the state. The two state agencies filed a petition for temporary restraining order, as well as a request for a preliminary and a permanent injunction against Gary Thompson and his son Jacob Thompson, both of the parish of Vernon, to stop buying and selling livestock.
A court date to hear the agencies’ request is set for Aug. 17.
According to the petition, both Thompsons have been expressly prohibited from buying and selling livestock after Jacob Thompson’s livestock dealer permit renewal was denied by the Board of Animal Health in 2018. The petition alleges Gary Thompson never held a livestock dealer permit, which is required in Louisiana. The two have ownership interests in Thompson Horse Lot, which has marketed horses on social media under various page names as being available for “bail” from a spot on a truck headed to Mexican slaughter facilities. The petition would also prevent anyone from acting as a livestock dealer on the Thompsons’ behalf.
As horse racing continues, alongside much of the country, to ponder the challenges of diversity and inclusion in its fan base and workforce, one man is hoping he can contribute part of the answer. Michael Davis’ idea is still in the early stages and has come together at a rough time for embarking on new non-profits, but he is determined to press forward anyway. Davis is the president and chief executive officer of the Oliver Lewis Inner City Thoroughbred Jockey Club, which he hopes will connect inner city youth in North Little Rock, Ark., to the Thoroughbred industry. The goal is to provide a diversion for at-risk youth while providing the racing industry a new source for future employees and leaders.
“My mom had moved from the South when I was two years old from to a big city – Milwaukee,” Davis recalled. “She didn’t like it there — there was a lot going on with riots and things like that, so the three youngest kids she sent back to her mom’s house in Mississippi, where her oldest brother had four horses. I learned the rural life, that you could have a horse in your yard.
“They had a calming effect. Just looking into the animal’s eyes, I fell in love with the horses. I learned to ride and ended up buying my uncle three more horses when I got older and got a good job. I had older brothers and sisters so I never was going to get into trouble, but I wanted to be out there with the horses. It can really change a kid’s life when they see there’s something beautiful they can care for.”
New regulations requiring veterinarians and trainers to file and keep medical records on a horse in training may seem like a lot of extra paperwork, but regulatory veterinarians say it makes a big difference in their ability to keep horses safe. In a video conference held as part of this year’s Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, Drs. Dionne Benson, Ryan Carpenter, Scott Palmer and Will Farmer gathered to discuss the advantages and challenges to veterinary records reporting.
“For me, it’s real simple: I think the regulatory body in whatever state you’re working in should have access to everything you do,” said Carpenter, who was the only private practice racetrack veterinarian on the panel. “I think you have to be very accurate in how you report your information, and not only in the paper format that we turn into the CHRB but also in conversations that take place with the regulatory vets. I’ve found that’s the best way to establish a working relationship that puts the horses best interests [at the forefront].