In a cocaine-drugging investigation reminiscent of the furor that rocked California racing circles two years ago, five thoroughbred trainers will be prevented from entering horses when Santa Anita opens Wednesday.
In all, 12 trainers--six on the thoroughbred side, three from the quarter horse ranks and three in harness racing--have been accused by the California Horse Racing Board of running horses that tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine. The biggest name is Blane Schvaneveldt, a premier quarter horse trainer who won the $250,000 Champion of Champions race with Dash for Speed at Los Alamitos Saturday night.
The thoroughbred trainers cited are John Russell, Blake Heap, Greg Martin, Tommy Richardson, Bill Stepp and Deanna Cook. Besides Schvaneveldt, the other quarter horse trainers are Russell Harris and H.L. Hooper. The harness trainers are James Butler, Bernie Roberts and Patrick Barr.
The reported positive tests came from horses that raced at Santa Anita, Del Mar, Hollywood Park, Los Alamitos and the California State Fair in Sacramento.
Because of confusion between the stewards at Hollywood Park and the racing board in Sacramento, Russell and other trainers were prevented from entering horses Thursday morning for Saturday.
"Ten minutes before entry time, I was told I couldn't run my horses," the English-born Russell said.
One of the horses Russell had planned on running in an allowance race Saturday was Serious Toy, a 2-year-old filly who finished fourth in the Althea Stakes at Hollywood on Dec. 12.
"We got a call just a few minutes ago from (racing board Executive Secretary) Dennis Hutcheson," Pete Pedersen, a Hollywood Park steward, said Thursday afternoon. "We were told that the trainers involved will not be able to enter horses starting Dec. 26."
Pedersen said the Santa Anita five--all but Cook, who is not locally based--would be prohibited from running thoroughbreds until hearings are held. Some of the trainers have hearings before an administrative law judge scheduled in January.
The three quarter horse trainers will be prohibited from running horses starting next Tuesday.
In 1988-89, Wayne Lukas and Laz Barrera, two of the best-known trainers in racing, were among six California horsemen whose horses tested positive for cocaine. One of the trainers, Roger Stein, who had a horse that tested positive late in 1988, was suspended for six months and fined $2,000, but charges against the others were dismissed. Stein and Barrera have filed $25-million lawsuits--Barrera against Truesdail Laboratories, the state's testing facility at the time, and Stein against Truesdail and the California Horse Racing Board.
Truesdail, located in Tustin, was replaced by Harris Laboratories in Phoenix. The positive tests this time involved benzoyl ecgonine, one of two major metabolites in cocaine. They were reported by Harris Laboratories and corroborated by the equine testing facility at Iowa State University.
In the cases of Schvaneveldt and Hooper, the positive tests came from horses that ran in June 1989; Russell's positive test came from a horse that ran at Santa Anita last April, and Stepp's positive test is from a race at Del Mar in late August.
Asked why there was such a long gap before the trainers were notified, Hutcheson said: "We had to get the second report from Iowa State, and they've been backlogged in their testing."
Schvaneveldt's horses have earned $1.3 million this year, which ranks him second in the country among quarter horse trainers. "Blane has started about 2,000 horses in the last two years, and now he gets this one positive," a friend of Schvaneveldt said. "It doesn't figure."
At the Stein hearings in 1989, several veterinarians testified that they knew of no effect that cocaine would have on a horse.
Lukas, Barrera and Stein were outraged at the accusations in 1988-89, and so are many of the trainers currently under investigation.
"They (racing investigators) raided my barn at Del Mar on Sept. 1," Russell said. "They found nothing. I asked them to check my help to see if they were on drugs, and the investigators declined to do so, saying I had 'nice people.' The first week in September, I wrote the racing board, asking for a hearing. I've heard nothing until I went to enter my horses (Thursday).
"Sid Miller, the owner of that filly, is furious that he won't be able to run her, and the rest of my owners will have the same reaction."
Russell trained for the Phipps family in New York, and his clients have included Fred Hooper in California. In 1972, Russell trained a Hooper horse, Susan's Girl, who won the Eclipse Award as best 3-year-old filly. Greg Martin's father, Pancho, is a member of the Racing Hall of Fame. The Martins are running a division of their New York stable in California this winter.
Russell's attorney, Donald Calabria, is representing Barrera in his lawsuit and he also represented Lukas.