When being positive isn't a good thing

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The Blood-Horse MarketWatch just released its annual trainers study, and It is unlikely to escape attention that the leading trainers by 2008 earnings — Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher, and Dick Dutrow — were all cited for drug positives last year. Let's be clear up front. A positive test result doesn't automatically mean the trainer is a cheater.

Steve Asmussen is the top the trainer ranks $24,235,247 in total earnings for 2008. He's ranked among the top three North American trainers by earnings for six of the past seven years. The only year Asmussen fell out of the top three was in 2006 when a drug positive led to a six-month suspension. He is battling with stewards again. This time he’s fighting a positive test for a metobolite of the local anesthetic lidocaine, which was found in 3-year-old filly named Timber Trick, who won a maiden race at Lone Star Park as the even-money favorite May 10. Asmussen was notified about the positive on June 26 and is still waiting for a hearing. Since the drug-positive notification, he has insisted he’s done nothing wrong, and his attorneys have asked the Texas Racing Commission to release the data on how much lidocaine was detected in the blood and urine split samples. Lidocaine is commonly found in many over-the-counter products. The commission has denied the request. If this case eventually goes to a hearing and the ruling is against Asmussen, he faces a fine from $1,500 to $2,500 and a suspension from six months to a year.

Dutrow was cited after a horse named Salute the Count tested positive for an excessive amount of the legal drug clenbuterol, which helps horse breathe better when congested by illness or during exercise. At higher doses, it is considered a performance-enhancing drug. The Kentucky Racing Commission suspended Dutrow for 15 days, but he appealed the ruling. A hearing officer, James Robke, later ruled there was insufficient evidence to punish Dutrow. The case is still pending.

Pletcher has the highest-profile case. His champion filly Wait a While tested positive for procaine during the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championship last fall as Santa Anita Park. Procaine is a local anesthetic found in the commonly administered antibiotic penicillin G procaine. A positive for procaine is a class 3 violation, which carries a minimum suspension of 30 days. According to Pletcher, Wait a While developed a fever two days after winning the Yellow Ribbon Stakes on Sept. 27. She did not respond to other antibiotics, so she was treated with penicillin G procaine. Her last injection was 18 days prior to the Breeders’ Cup, with the understanding that 14 days provided a more than ample withdrawal time.

Regardless of whether penalities are assessed, it just isn't helping the sport —  which is already struggling with its image  to have its highest profile trainers fighting drug positives.  

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