Kellyn Gorder is a well-regarded thoroughbred trainer. Bourbon Warfare won a maiden race for him at Churchill Downs on Nov. 22, 2014. The horse was drug tested and came back for a trace of methamphetamine.
“Trace” should be taken literally. A picogram is one-trillionth of a gram. Split samples are taken in drug testing of racehorses. Bourbon Warfare’s first split came back at 57 picograms and the second at 48 picograms.
Rich Halvey covers thoroughbred racing in his blog “Halvey on Horse Racing.” Halvey contacted Dr. Steven Barker, a professor of veterinary medicine at LSU, to ask about the significance of those numbers of picograms.
“Forty-eight picograms of meth isn’t enough to get a flea high,” Barker said.
In the new, crazed era of fanatics running the drug-testing mechanism of horse racing, Gorder received a one-year suspension from training.
The idea of Gorder overseeing the injection of a minute dose of meth in a 1,200-pound thoroughbred seemed ludicrous.
And so does this: The stewards at Canterbury Park and the racing commission appear ready to take similar action against Mac Robertson, the most prominent and successful trainer at the Shakopee horse track.
Again, this is based on a trace of meth being found in a winning horse: Purest Form on June 7 in a $7,500 claiming race. It was the favorite and paid $6 to win.
A couple of weeks later, Robertson was summoned to a meeting with the stewards. He was told Purest Form had tested positive for meth.
“I asked, ‘How much?’ And they said, ‘It’s small’ … they didn’t give me a number,” Robertson said. “Wouldn’t have meant much to me, anyway, because I didn’t know what a picogram meant with meth. I don’t know anything about meth, except we’ve had a few cases on the backside where people were found with it.”
Eventually, the number came back from the split sample at 74 picograms. Remember, that’s trillionths of a gram … such a tiny amount that environmental contamination could be as likely of a source as it being intentionally introduced to the horse.
“What would meth do to help a horse win a race?” Robertson was asked.
Again, Robertson said he had no idea, but then pointed out this: He currently has 55 horses at Delaware Park and 55 at Canterbury Park. He has multiple entries on most cards. He runs many and wins regularly.
“I got this horse from another trainer,” Robertson said. “I had it drug tested when we got it, just to make sure. He was clean. I also was aware of Kellyn Gorder’s situation in Kentucky, aware of the suspensions in a couple of other meth cases.
“I’m going to risk that, risk a year suspension, to put meth into a horse that I’ve never run before? I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs, I don’t have gambling debts, my mortgage is paid up. I got 55 horses here, not three.
“I don’t have any reason to be desperate to win a $7,500 claiming race.”
Robertson does not expect such logic to carry the day when he has a hearing with the stewards Saturday.
“They seemed to enjoy telling me that I was probably going to get 90 days from them [the stewards], and that I’ll probably get a year from the commission,” Robertson said. “It’s the way racing is now. They are out to get everyone.”
Robertson had 30 people who work for him at Canterbury Park drug tested after he found out about the positive test for meth with Purest Form.
“I waited until the day before payday, when I knew everyone would be there, and then said, ‘Come on, we’re going for drug testing — including my wife and myself,’ ” Robertson said. “We had two people come back positive for meth.
“We fired them, but it could be anybody, anything. Some guy takes a leak in the stable and the horse eats the hay. Somebody rubs their hand across the horse’s nostrils or mouth.
“I know it sounds ridiculous, but when you find out what a ridiculously small amount that this is, 74 picograms … I’m told by people who know that it’s probably environmental.
“There’s also the possibility, I suppose, that somebody on the backside that’s into meth thought he could give a little to this horse and make some money betting on it; heck, I have no idea.
“I hope the stewards and commission look at the logic of it, but I’m not confident. It’s a ‘caught-you’ mentality in racing right now, even when you’re talking about something like this.”
The something being a meth trace that couldn’t get a flea high, much less a thoroughbred.