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Monday, August 19, 2019

Successful June stakes day at Penn National overshadowed by Rojas drug trial

Three Pa-bred stakes races highlighted a day of seven stakes races at Penn National in Grantville, Pa., on June 3, but the success of that day was quickly overshadowed by a sensationalized trial of trainer Murray Rojas for the illegal use of therapeutic drugs on race days that resulted in her conviction on 14 felony counts and in Penn National permanently evicting both Rojas and her husband Eduardo and trainer Stephanie Beattie, who admitted to using illegal drugs.

During the trial, Beattie, who decided to cooperate with the FBI, which was running the investigation, in hopes of reducing her punishment, asserted that virtually all the trainers at Penn National used illegal medications, a fact denied by many.

In fact, the consensus is that most of the trainers at Penn National are good and law-abiding conditioners who have the best interests of the horses in mind.

In the first of the three Pa-bred stakes, Grand Prix, owned by HnRNothhaft Horse Racing LLC, trained by Gary Mandella and ridden by Javiar Castellano, won  the $101,000 New Start Stakes for 3-year-old Pa-bred fillies by a length over Buttonwood Farm's Rose Tree, trained by Jonathan Sheppard and ridden by Andrew Wolfsont.

The card of seven stakes drew a large, enthusiastic crowd that made Firsthand Report the favorite in the $103,000 Lyphard Stakes for Pa-bred fillies and mares 3 and up, and the Todd Pletcher 4-year-old by Blame didn't disappoint.

Owned by StarLadies Racing, and bred by Lindsay C.F. Scott and Jane MacElree, Firsthand Report, ridden by Castellano, beat  Baxter LLC's Impy, trained by T. Houghton, by a neck.

Ruis Racing LLC's The Critical Way, trained by Mick Ruis and again ridden by Castellano, won by a neck over Uptowncharlybrown, trained by Edward Coletti, in the $100,000 Danzig Stakes for Pa-bred 3 year olds.

Three $200,000 stakes followed, but the featured race of the evening was the ninth race, the $500,000 Penn Mile Stakes, which was won by Green Lantern Stables LLC's Frostmourne, trained by Christophe Clement.


ROJAS, 51, was convicted on June 30 of 14 felony counts of using illegal prescription drugs on race days and conspiracy that involved 58 races and took place from as early as 2002 and continued through 2014.

Interestingly, however, according to reports in Paulick's Report, the illegal drugs administered included Robinul, Kentucky Red, Estrone and Amicar, all of which have an ability to limit bleeding, and most of which were at one time, before Lasix, permitted, but, and this is the interesting part, they have no performance enhancing abilities.

In the many news reports researched for this article, most did not report which medications were used and none questioned why drugs that have no performance enhancing ability were used so many times.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Horse Racing Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, although Russell Jones, a member of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission said the case has not yet come before them.

Beattie admitted that she also routinely had her horses treated with the same illegal medications by the same veterinarians as treated Rojas' horses.

"Almost everybody did it," said Beattie in the Paulick Report. "Ninety-five to 98%. It was a known practice. We wanted to win and they weren't testing for those drugs at that time."

Rojas' attorney, Robert Goldman, proposed that, because "almost everybody did it," it made for a level playing field.

Veterinarians Kevin Brophy, Fernando Motta, Christopher Korte and Renee Nodine administered illegal drugs and then had invoices backdated and racing commission treatment records falsified to avoid detection, according to the Paulick Report,

Those four veterinarians pleaded guilty in April, 2015 to illegally administering drugs to horses and cooperated with the prosecution.They have not yet been sentenced.

This was a system of long time cheating, and that four veterinarians were involved makes it all the more appalling.

The drug testing lab also must share in the blame, as it was careless and mixed samples, which diluted results.

The Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory (PETRL) conducts drug testing at all Pennsylvania racetracks.

Dr. Mary Robinson, acting director of PETRL, testified that the lab did not, at the time of the offenses, have tests for a number of drug treatments allegedly given to horses on race day, according to the Paulick Report.

She also said the lab was not testing for every drug, every day, and that only winners and up to two other horses are tested in each race.

The lab mixed urine samples from two horses and screened for various drugs.

If something was flagged as positive, individual samples would be retested, but mixing the samples diluted any prohibited substance in an individual sample.

 Several other individuals were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office and state court.

Danny Robertson, the official clocker, was charged with wire fraud and is ordered to pay a $2,500 fine and serve one year of probation.

Craig Lytel, a racing official, was charged with wire fraud and was sentenced to four months in prison along with a fine of $1,000.

Owner and trainer David Wells was sentenced in February, 2015, to three months in prison on a charge of rigging a race, and Patricia Rogers and Samuel Webb, charged with the same offense, received an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition in Dauphin Court of Common Pleas.


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