Blaming a failed drug test on contamination, trainer Saffie
Joseph Jr. said Friday he would appeal his suspension, a fine and the
disqualification of Artie’s Princess, who won a Grade 2 race last year at
Presque Isle Downs.
“If I do wrong, I can accept responsibility,” Joseph told Horse
Racing Nation on Friday in a phone interview from Florida. “I have no problem
accepting responsibility when mistakes are made. It’s not the first positive I’ve
had. I know when a positive is our mistake, and I know when it’s not our
mistake. In this case it’s not our mistake.”
Paulick Report first reported the Tuesday ruling by
the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission that included a $500 fine of Joseph,
whose 15-day suspension was scheduled for June 5-19.
The now 6-year-old mare Artie’s Princess was said by the PHRC
to have tested positive for gabapentin, a medication used as a pain reliever
for horses. The commission said it was found in her system after she finished
first Sept. 19 in the $400,600 Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes. PHRC rules prohibit
even a trace of gabapentin.
Joseph said he got a phone call three weeks after the race telling
him of the failed post-race test.
“I had never heard of the medication until then,” he said. “I’ve
never used that medication on any horse in my life. I’ve never had a veterinarian
use that medication on any horse in my life.”
Joseph said he was confident he would win his appeal,
because Artie’s Princess passed a separate, out-of-competition test the day
before the Masters. Joseph said the mare spent that night and the following day
in a detention barn with other horses entered for the Sept. 19 race.
“She was negative 24 hours before the race, but then she’s
positive by urine after the race,” Joseph said. “We asked for the blood report
after the race, because she was negative the day before. It’s very rare for
them to do an out-of-competition test the day before. In this sense it’s
actually a blessing.”
Joseph said the PHRC refused to provide him with a report on
the post-race blood work.
A Sept. 28 document filed with the PHRC by veterinarian Dr.
Mary Robinson, the acting director of the PA Equine Toxicology and Research
Laboratory in West Chester, Pa., showed all 11 horses who were given pre-race
tests “were found to be negative for the presence of foreign substances.”
After learning of the positive in the urine test, Joseph
said exercised his right to have a split sample tested at Texas A&M. It came
back Jan. 3 confirming a trace amount of gabapentin, specifically 0.19 nanograms,
or billionths of a gram, per milliliter.
“At 0.2 nanograms,” Joseph said, adding that a study
published last fall in the Irish Veterinary Journal “recommended
creating a threshold level to avoid contamination positives, because there had
been a bunch of contamination positives with the same medication. That’s why
they were doing the study. Their level of recommendation was five nanograms,”
or 26 times the level detected in the We Miss Artie mare.
Owner Ken Ramsey also is taking part in the appeal. It was
filed by Florida lawyer Brad Beilly, who is working for Joseph, and Kentucky
attorney Craig Robertson, who represents Ramsey. Robertson has become well known
for working with trainer Bob Baffert in his fight to reverse the late Medina
Spirit’s drug disqualification after winning the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
“No one associated with Ramsey or Joseph who had contact
with Artie’s Princess takes gabapentin,” Beilly and Robertson wrote in the
formal appeal, acknowledging the drug also is used by humans. “Thus, Artie’s
Princess had to contaminated by a third party or commission personnel. The amount
of gabapentin allegedly found in Artie’s Princess’s system was trace in every
sense of the word. In fact, it was 231,579 times less than an effective
Still in training but on a recent break, Artie’s Princess
last raced Jan. 28, finishing sixth in the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare
Turf Invitational (G3). Still showing her win in the Masters, Equibase said her
record is 14: 7-1-0 with earnings of $563,125. The winner’s share of the
Masters was $240,000 and would go to Café Society if the PHRC ruling were to
Mostly raced at Woodbine, Artie’s Princess had been trained by Wesley Ward before Ramsey moved her to Joseph during a nearly year-long break between June 2021 and May 2022.
Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., is owned by Churchill Downs
Inc., which bought the track in early 2019 for $178.9 million.