DEL MAR — The popular image of a trainer at Del Mar is someone on a seven-week paid vacation, with one foot in the Pacific Ocean and one hand on a stopwatch.
It's a misconception, of course. Del Mar is far more pleasant than Aqueduct in the winter, or Thistledown any time, but it's still a six-day racing week, one more than average on the Southern California circuit.
For a half-dozen trainers at the seaside track, this season has been more than that. They will remember the current meeting not for the races they won, but for the hearings they have attended and the testimony they have heard and given.
To a man, the Del Mar Six say not guilty to charges that they knowingly raced horses that tested positive for a prohibited medication at Santa Anita last winter.
"I saddled my first horse in 1938," trainer Willard Proctor said. "This is the first positive I've ever had."
Proctor's attorney is Donald Calabria, who also represents Ron McAnally, Richard Mandella and Mark Hennig. The other trainers, Bill Shoemaker and Looie Cenicola, have their own attorneys, and yet another lawyer, Richard Craigo, is representing the owners of horses trained by Hennig and Mandella.
The trainers are fighting to avoid suspensions and/or fines and trying to keep hard-earned reputations untarnished. McAnally is in the Racing Hall of Fame. Proctor has been nominated for a spot on the Hall's ballot several times. Shoemaker is in the Hall as a jockey with a record 8,833 winners. Mandella won two Breeders' Cup races and two other stakes on the same day at Santa Anita last fall, and trained 1993 horse of the year Kotashaan. In his first full year as a trainer in 1993, Hennig trained horses that earned $4.1 million. Cenicola has won more than a dozen stakes since forming his own stable.
The drug in question is scopolamine, which has been described as a depressant. Calabria has suggested that contamination is the cause; scopolamine grows naturally in several plants, including jimsonweed, and the attorney has produced witnesses from the post-race testing barn who have said they saw jimsonweed in horses' straw.
More hearings are scheduled for Sept. 3-5 at Del Mar.