Last week, New Times published a feature article on horse doping at Calder Race Course. The investigation found that trainer Kirk Ziadie had violated state drug standards 41 times but had only been fined a total of $13,100 -- less than the purse for many races. Despite the drug violations, Ziadie's horses had never forfeited their prize money.
Our article found Florida partly at fault due to its lax penalties and outdated testing methods. But a spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation -- the agency overseeing horse racing in the state -- disagrees.
"The Department has pursued discipline against licensed individuals who violate these standards for the industry, including Mr. Ziadie, to the extent permitted under state statutes and rules," says Sandi Copes Poreda.
Poreda denies that Florida's rules are lax. As evidence, she cites DBPR's move to strengthen fines and penalties for drug overages last year.
Poreda also denies that Florida's testing methods lag behind other states.
"The University of Florida's Racing Laboratory is one of only seven laboratories in the nation that has been accredited by Forensic Quality Services," she says. "The lab uses state-of-the-art equipment to analyze samples collected from racing animals in Florida and updates its procedures regularly.
But as Dr. Richard Sams -- the former director of UF's Racing Lab -- told us during our investigation, weaker testing methods are, in fact, written into Florida statutes for some classes of drugs:
(14) The division shall utilize only the thin layer chromatography (TLC) screening process to test for the presence of class IV and V medications in samples taken from racehorses except when thresholds of a class IV or class V medication have been established and are enforced by rule. Once a sample has been identified as suspicious for a class IV or class V medication by the TLC screening process, the sample will be sent for confirmation by and through additional testing methods. All other medications not classified by rule as a class IV or class V agent shall be subject to all forms of testing available to the division.
(emphasis added by New Times)
Poreda responds by saying that class V medications are the "equivalent of human aspirin."
Yet, when these drugs are used to mask a horse's injury or make it run through pain, it can lead to deadly accidents for both the horse and its jockey. The rising toll of these breakdowns was chronicled in a recent series of articles by the The New York Times.
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Finally, Poreda argues that in the event of a drug positive, "the state does not have the ability to pull the purse (race winnings) back from the trainer because the purse is awarded to the owner."
While obviously true, this ignores the reality that trainers (a) are employed by the horse owner and (b) often receive a slice of the purse from the owner after a win. Revoking a purse therefore punished both the owner and trainer.
Why the DBPR would not demand the return of the winnings from the 41 races after which Kirk Ziadie's horses failed drug tests remains an open question.