Data Lost in Santa Anita Drug Case : Information on Stein Suspension Accidentally Destroyed
The state testing laboratory that found cocaine in the system of a horse at Santa Anita last year has inadvertently lost much of the testing data because of a computer foul-up.
The mistake was revealed Monday during a daylong hearing into the fine and suspension of trainer Roger Stein, whose horse tested positive and was disqualified after running second in a $10,000 claiming race Oct. 23.
Stein was fined $2,000 and suspended for 6 months by track stewards. Stein, 35, has obtained a court injunction which permits him to continue training horses and has appealed his penalty to the California Horse Racing Board. Stein says that his stable has shrunk from 25 horses to 1 since the suspension.
Monday’s hearing, which was held before an administrative law judge at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport, will be resumed Feb. 14. After the hearing is over, the law judge will send a decision to the racing board, which can either uphold or change the fine and suspension. Stein has indicated that he will continue to fight the issue through the courts and may even seek damages.
Stein and his attorneys are questioning the validity of the testing on the horse, a 5-year-old gelding named Emperor’s Turn, and are also saying that if the horse did race with cocaine, it was without Stein’s knowledge.
On Monday, David Hall, the senior racing chemist for Truesdail Laboratories, said charts, graphs and notes pertaining to Emperor’s Turn were lost in a computer system on Nov. 10. Truesdail, which is located in Tustin, has been the state’s testing laboratory for racing for almost 40 years.
“The data was accidentally purged from the system,” Hall said under questioning from Art Lewis, one of Stein’s attorneys. “It was data that would have established the result we originally arrived at.
“It happened during a routine disc clean-up. It’s a procedure that we must do because there’s not room to file the hundreds of records we must keep. The operator of the system was supposed to be purging the records from Nov. 1. Not realizing the danger, he also purged the records from Nov. 10.”
Stein had a hearing before the stewards Nov. 7 and the horse’s blood was tested Nov. 10. The urine from Emperor’s Turn was tested Oct. 27 and 31 and Stein says that the stewards told him of their ruling on Nov. 9. Both the urine and blood analyses showed that Emperor’s Turn raced with cocaine.
“The timing of all this is fishy,” Stein said. “It sounds like more than a coincidence that the stewards would tell me what they’re doing to me one day and then the records should vanish the next.”
Lewis is trying to establish that Truesdail improperly used all of the postrace blood taken from Emperor’s Turn, preventing Stein from sending the sample to an independent testing laboratory.
Hall said Monday that he was told by racing board investigators to go ahead with the blood analysis, even though they knew that there would be no blood left to send to an out-of-state laboratory.
“Splitting the sample wouldn’t have worked,” Hall said. “If we had cut the sample in half, the part that we tested wouldn’t have been in the best interests of obtaining a true analysis.”
Hall testified for about 4 hours.
Earlier, Don Dooley, a state veterinarian at Santa Anita and other Southern California tracks, had given an opinion about cocaine use on horses.
“This is the first time I’ve ever run into a cocaine case with horses, so I’m extrapolating from what it does to humans,” Dooley said.
“I would say that for a horse, cocaine causes a reduction in the sensation of fatigue and increases the heart rate, along with bringing on euphoria. Its use probably wouldn’t help a horse win a race.”
Normally, only the winner of Emperor’s Turn’s race would have been tested, but Stein’s horse was tested because he was one of seven random horses whose samples are taken during a typical race day. Dooley said that there was no special reason why Emperor’s Turn was tested.
Hall testified that in 1987, Truesdail discovered 2 horses that appeared to have run on cocaine at Los Alamitos, but the laboratory was unable to substantiate the finding. After another laboratory proved that the horses’ samples had contained cocaine, Truesdail was able to confirm that test.
“Everything that could go wrong with this case has gone wrong,” Lewis said.
After Hall testified about the data being lost in the computer, Lewis asked that all of the chemist’s testimony be stricken from the record. Amanda Behe, the law judge, denied the motion.