Trainer Rusty Arnold had a weight removed from his shoulders Tuesday when he received notice that Kentucky stewards will rescind a pair of ractopamine positives from the 2016 Kentucky Downs meet. Arnold had been mulling his appeal options through the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) after a 90-day suspension was issued last week, but had his name cleared when new information was discovered by the commission’s laboratory Monday.
Because the positives did not hold up to the lab’s tests, all sanctions against Arnold and trainer Joe Sharp–who was suspended 30 days for one positive–were lifted, effectively exonerating them.
“It was going to be a timely, expensive process, and to have it adjudicated that quickly is a huge relief,” said Arnold, who was in Ocala assessing 2-year-old prospects when he received the news. “I got it off my back and I can get back to doing what I like to do–training horses…My wife Sarah and I have been overwhelmed with the support we’ve gotten from our industry. We couldn’t be more grateful to all of them.”
Arnold credited the KHRC with being highly knowledgeable and placing the interests of horsemen first. He said he had a productive conversation with Marc Guilfoil, Executive Director of the KHRC, Wednesday morning and is hopeful that he can take an active role in shaping reform that provides more safeguards and rebuttal options to trainers faced with positive tests.
“I’ve probably been a little naive in the past,” Arnold said. “One thing I’d like to say to all trainers is that if you think it can’t happen to you, it can. I think we all need to work together, and if there’s anything good to come out of it, I’m going to sit down with the racing commission. We need to fix this…It seems to me that the system works a bit backwards: you get a ruling put out against you, and then you get the opportunity to clear yourself after that and spend a lot of money doing it. I feel like if there’s going to be a ruling put out against you of this magnitude– telling you to disband your stable and be out of commission for 90 days–it needs to be absolutely certain. It needs to be taken to a higher level.”
Guilfoil, too, said he has given much thought in recent days to how the process can be tweaked to allow trainers to clear their name before a potentially damaging ruling is issued.
“It’s really a shame it happened,” Guilfoil said over the phone Wednesday morning. “We’re dealing with people’s lives and reputations, and we take it very seriously here…Are we going to look at this thing to see if we can change things around and make it work better? 100% yes. That’s my number one priority right now…At the end of the day, we’re going to look hard and seriously at it.”
Guilfoil said the KHRC was contacted by lab director Dr. Rick Sams around noon Monday and acted quickly to present the Kentucky stewards with new information that ultimately led to Arnold and Sharp being cleared of any wrongdoing.
“The metabolizers were there, but the parent drug was not there,” Guilfoil said. “Dr. Sams changed his views and he let us know that. He put it in writing, and I sent it to the stewards and asked them to reconsider with this new information. They convened via a telephone conference [Tuesday] morning, and decided there wasn’t enough to go forward with calling this a positive.”
Guilfoil, who said he personally believed that the positives were a result of contaminated feed samples from the outset, said that there must be a level of subjectivity when dealing with medication positives on a case-by-case basis. Because ractopamine is an easily detected drug–and due to the reputations of Arnold and Sharp–there was good reason to be skeptical of the initial results, according to Guilfoil. As such, the executive director said there must be a clearer recourse for trainers to avoid having their name unjustly associated with a positive test.
“The rule is written on paper in a way that they can’t rebut, but that’s not truly how it goes,” Guilfoil said. “At the racing commission, we tested whatever Joe Sharp and Rusty Arnold wanted tested. In reality, there is a rebuttal, so we’re working on changing the rule back in writing. We’re going to clean it up so it reads that way on paper.”
With the cases of Arnold and Sharp resolved, Guilfoil said the KHRC maintains its ultimate goal of protecting the integrity of the sport as much as possible.
“We want to catch the bad guys,” he said. “More than catch them–we want to have deterrents out there. We have a clean sport 99.99% of the time.”