Stewards acting on behalf of the California Horse Racing Board Wednesday suspended trainer Roger Stein for 6 months, fined him $2,000 and put him on probation until 1990 because one of his horses tested positive for cocaine.
The ruling prohibits Stein, 34, from running any of his horses in California and denies him access to any race track within CHRB jurisdiction. Under reciprocity agreements, the ban applies nationwide and in Mexico and Canada.
Steward Pete Pedersen was quick to point out, however, that Stein was not guilty of anything more than being the drugged horse’s trainer.
“His penalty is based on the ‘absolute insurer’s rule,’ which makes a trainer responsible in the event his or her horse tests positive after a race,” the 3-member board of stewards said in a prepared statement.
Stein, a former harness racing trainer who switched to thoroughbreds nearly 2 years ago, immediately reaffirmed his innocence and accused the CHRB of having “a personal vendetta” against him.
“Not only am I innocent, but the punishment here is excessive and out of proportion to similar or more serious violations imposed in other cases,” he said.
“It appears to support the allegation of a personal vendetta by certain CHRB officials.
“The evidence, if any, is not even clear as to when, if ever, the cocaine was introduced. It could have been introduced after the horse left my hands. That is what the evidence showed at my hearing.”
The decision to suspend Stein was made after a lengthy formal hearing at which at least a dozen witnesses testified under oath. At issue was how a large quantity of cocaine came to be found in the system of Emperor’s Turn, a horse trained by Stein, after it had finished second in a $10,000 claiming race at Santa Anita on Oct. 23.
At the hearing, David Hall, a senior chemist at Truesdail Laboratory in Tustin, testified that the cocaine “possibly had been administered within several hours of the race,” according to the stewards’ statement. Hall was unable to determine how the drug had been administered.
The stewards’ decision stated: “Pursuant to California Horse Racing Board rule No. 1887 (trainer to insure condition of horse), trainer Roger Stein . . . is suspended for 180 days (November 2, 1988 through April 30, 1989) and fined $2,000 for violation of California Horse Racing Board rule No. 1843 (prohibited medication--cocaine). Subject is placed on probation through December 31, 1989.
“During the term of suspension, all licenses and license privileges of Roger Stein are suspended and he is denied access to all premises in this jurisdiction.”
Calling the action “a travesty” and “a miscarriage of justice,” Stein appealed the ruling Wednesday afternoon, asking the CHRB for a stay. That appeal will be forwarded to Paul Deats, CHRB chairman, today.
“In the event (CHRB members) do not grant the stay and (Stein and his attorney, Kenneth H. Lewis) want to proceed with it, they naturally have recourse to the courts,” Pedersen said.
Said Stein, citing what he said were 17 inconsistencies in the testimony given at the hearing: “If we don’t get (the stay), we’ll be in court the next morning.”
Pedersen said the “absolute insurer’s rule” making the trainer ultimately responsible, had been challenged in the past, but usually unsuccessfully.
“Most courts have upheld it,” he said, adding that had he and fellow stewards Thomas Ward and Hubert S. Jones been able to prove guilt in the case, the penalty would have been even more severe.
“If we could have established guilt, I’m sure we all would have definitely tried to get (the guilty party’s) license revoked,” he said.
Pedersen branded as “absolutely false” reports that the CHRB might have influenced the stewards’ decision.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that the racing board has been very concerned about (illegal) medication,” he said. “But nobody gave us any direction or told us what to do. Right or wrong, it’s our decision.”
Deats, too, denied that the board had in any way pressured the stewards to issue a stiff penalty.
“That’s not true,” he said. “The board would not ever zero in on one person to make an example of. . . . The example we would make would not be of the individual but of the violation.”
Added Pedersen: “You must remember, we’re dealing with a man who’s not been proven guilty of anything but being the trainer of that horse. We would dearly love to find out whoever is guilty. It’s very distressing when you get a position where you don’t know where (the cocaine) came from.
“Hopefully we didn’t overreact or underreact. When you see a horse racing at Santa Anita or (any) major race track with cocaine in its system, you’re talking about heavy stuff, whoever’s involved. So we took it as a serious matter.
“In the final analysis, the public welfare (is what matters). There’s no place in horse racing for this type of drugging or medication. Why it happened, how it happened . . . the case is still open.”