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The Maine State Harness Racing Commission plans on Friday afternoon to release more details about the cases of seven people who have been suspended or fined by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for supplying cobalt to their horses, according to a report by Portland TV station WCSH. The seven are drivers, trainers or owners of horses and some are appealing the rulings, according to the report. The use of cobalt is banned, as it improves endurance, according to a report on racing.com, and can cause severe side effects in horses. Steven Vafiades of Corinth was hit the hardest for penalties, as he has been suspended 450 days and must repay $23,000 in purse money. He also has been fined $2,250. Others who received suspensions of 450 days were Randy Bickmore, Patricia Switzer and Stephen Murchison. Longtime driver Drew Campbell of Scarborough, who has more 3,500 career victories, was suspended for 270 days. He also was fined $1,250 and must repay $2,150 in purse money. Bickmore, Switzer and Murchison were each fined $2,250, and each must repay purse money ranging from $4,000 to almost $11,000. Allison McDonald was ordered to repay $1,250 in purse money, and Frank Hiscock must repay $1,200. The penalties for Bickmore, Campbell, Vafiades and Switzer were apparently handed down by the Maine Harness Racing Commission in February. The commission is part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. A report by harnessracingupdate.com on March 6 said it received a penalty summary for those four people from Henry Jennings, the commission’s acting executive director. Although issues with the use of cobalt in horse racing reportedly surfaced as early as 2013, the misuse of the chemical appears to have increased dramatically during 2015. That is the time frame in which the seven Maine harness racing trainers/drivers were found to have abused the substance in their horses. In April, the New York State Gaming Commission levied what were termed unprecedented penalties against six Standardbred horse trainers who had administered doses of cobalt that were deemed potentially dangerous and performance-enhancing in nature. Those trainers are to be suspended or have their licenses revoked entirely and each has been fined at least $25,000, according to a report in the Daily Racing Forum. The cobalt levels in horses trained by three of the individuals were deemed to be so serious that those individuals will be banned from harness racing for 10 years. The violations involving the six New York trainers occurred at Monticello Casino and Raceway, Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Yonkers Raceway during March 2016. The New York State Gaming Commission also has referred the violations to law enforcement, opening the door for possible animal cruelty charges. According to thoroughbredracing.com, cobalt is a substance that occurs as part of the vitamin B12 complex and is present naturally in horses at low levels. However, it gained attention as a performance enhancer in horses because it stimulates the production of the hormone erythropoietin, which promotes the formation of red blood cells. The result is better endurance and decreased muscle fatigue. However, high doses of cobalt can have major health ramifications for horses. It can produce abnormal sweating, anxiety and trembling. A study by Dr. Mary Scollay, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission equine medical director, found that high doses of cobalt also interfere with the clotting of blood. Reprinted with permission of The Bangor Daily News

The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity announced today that a number of additional members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on in support of the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 (THIA) in recent weeks.   Representatives Steve Stivers (R-OH), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA), Luke Messer (R-IN), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Chris Collins (R-NY), and Tony Cardenas (D-CA) signed on in the first two months of 2016.   THIA now has a total of 25 co-sponsors, demonstrating the growing momentum of support for the horse racing medication reform bill.   "I'm grateful for the members of Congress from both parties who have stepped forward to support the goals of the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act," said Congressman Andy Barr (R-KY), co-author of THIA.   "Achieving this milestone is evidence of the growing support for uniform medication standards which will enhance the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred horseracing in America."   "I am energized to see this critical, bipartisan legislation approach 25 cosponsors," said Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), fellow co-author of THIA, "and I look forward to working with Congressman Barr to push this closer to the finish line."   "I am pleased to report that New York has 7 co-sponsors of H.R. 3084, the most of any state."   I will also continue to stress the importance of this legislation to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and advocate for a hearing on this issue."   Tonko continued, "As I travel throughout New York's Capital Region, home to the famed Saratoga Race Course, constituents everywhere are enthusiastic about this potential for this legislation to reinvigorate the sport of kings."   Last August, during the Saratoga meet, I had the opportunity to provide the keynote address at the Saratoga Institute on Equine, Racing & Gaming Law Conference, where I made the case that implementing uniform rules and enhancing respect for our equine athletes are essential elements to improve the image of the sport for today's discerning fans."   THIA, or H.R.3084, is the only legislative proposal with active support across the diverse stakeholders that make up America's horse racing community.   Signing on form both sides of the aisle, these new cosponsors also signify the widespread bipartisan support THIA continues to gain on Capitol Hill.   In supporting THIA, the representatives join House co-authors Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) as well as cosponsors Richard Hanna (R-NY), David Jolly (R-FL), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Ted Yoho (R-FL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), David Joyce (R-OH), Jerold Nadler (D-NY), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Mark Takano (D-CA), and James Himes (D-CT).   The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity supports the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015, which would authorize an independent, racing-specific, non-governmental and non-profit organization to create uniform, high standards in drug and medication testing and enforcement for Thoroughbred horse racing.   The Coalition's membership includes major racing organizations, animal welfare groups, racing and wagering facilities and a grassroots organization with over 1,200 owners, trainers, breeders, and racing professionals.   Additional information, including a list of coalition members, stories from supporters and ways to contact Congress to express support for this legislation, is available at www.horseracingintegrity.com.   Caroline Roth

State Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, is sponsoring legislation in the Illinois House to prevent the closing of Balmoral Park and Maywood Park, harness racing tracks, at the end of the year. Jones, whose district includes Crete, where Balmoral Park is located, admitted to me that his effort is a long shot, "but the only hope we have right now of keeping Balmoral Park open next year so that it might attract a buyer." The lawmaker questioned the Illinois Racing Board's decision to take harness racing dates away from Balmoral and Maywood, which had historically held them, and give them to Hawthorne Race Course. "There was no public discussion about this, no consultation with state legislators, and we don't know exactly what information the racing board was acting on when it made its decision," Jones said, adding that he wants to hold a public hearing in Chicago to find out how the board reached its decision. Jones' bill, H.B. 2663, would amend the Illinois Racing Act of 1975 and allocate a minimum of 30 days of racing in the next year to any race track that was in good standing during the current year, meaning Balmoral and Maywood. Under the current law, the off track betting operations associated with Balmoral and Maywood could remain open for a few years, but would be placed in jeopardy by the way OTB money is distributed, according to Jones. Jack Kelly, a former lobbyist for Balmoral and Maywood, said gambling revenues at OTB parlors are divided up among racetracks under a complicated system that rewards "host tracks" which are featuring live races. All the revenue wagered at local OTB parlors, he said, goes to those tracks that have live racing at the time (day or night), which has ultimately resulted in what he called a fairly equal distribution of funds between Arlington International Racecourse, Hawthorne, Maywood and Balmoral. According to Kelly, Balmoral and Maywood generate about one-third of all the OTB revenue in the Chicago metro area. But if Maywood and Balmoral have no live racing next year, they would get none of that revenue split. So Jones' bill would alter the "host" system that determines how revenues are split on bets made at OTBs and inter-tracks. The change would allow each OTB and race track to retain the commissions and purse money earned from betting out-of-state races at their respective operations. Jones admitted that at this point he can't even muster the votes to get his measure out of a House committee. "So my goal now is to get a hearing in Chicago where we can go into how the Illinois Gaming Board made its decision and how it was influenced by the people at competing racetracks in the hope that once people understand how these decisions were made they will start questioning the entire process," he said. Jones said he believes Arlington and Hawthorne used a $78 million civil judgment against the Johnston Family, which owns Balmoral and Maywood, as fodder to sway the votes of racing board members. The Johnstons were forced to file for bankruptcy after being caught up in the Gov. Rod Blagojevich scandal, resulting in a civil lawsuit filed by casinos for allegedly offering campaign contributions to the former governor in exchange for the state extending an agreement to share casino gambling revenue with the two racetracks. The contribution apparently was never made and the deal never completed. "The racing board decided to take the harness racing dates away from Maywood and Balmoral because of that, but if it was a matter of them saying they wanted to clean up horse racing in Illinois and punish the tracks involved in the scandal, that could have been done back in 2011 when the information first came out," Jones said. "Instead, they waited for a decision in the civil suit. "What I'm interested in is the economic impact on the communities I represent," Jones continued. "We have 270 acres of land out there in Crete that really isn't of much use for anything other than a race track. Its economic impact on Crete, Steger, Beecher, Monee and other surrounding communities is between $2 million and $3 million a year. "There are hundreds of jobs at stake, either connected to the track directly -- tellers, food service staff, security, parking attendants, maintenance staff people who work the backstretch -- and those people employed by businesses that do business with the track," Jones said. "There are also people who live on the track, at Balmoral, and some of them may be able to relocate, but many of them will have no place to live. "Finally, to sell that track to a new buyer, you have to be able to offer them something in return. No one is going to buy a race track if they are not guaranteed race dates by the state. It would be foolish to invest that kind of money. Our only hope of attracting a buyer, of retaining those jobs and that revenue for the businesses in the community, is to keep the track operating until a buyer can be found." Jones said he hopes to convince south suburban mayors to support his measure and lobby their lawmakers to back his bill. Earlier this week, the legislative and policy committee of the Will County Board voted to back the legislation. "This reminds me of the closing of Oak Forest Hospital," said Jones, who testified against the closing at a public hearing. "The closing of that hospital had a significant economic impact on the south suburbs. We lost jobs and revenue and most of that hospital remains vacant. We can't keep allowing our government, which we pay taxes to support, to work against the best interests of the people of the south suburbs. We have to take a stand and put a stop to this. I believe we can do it." While Jones sounded optimistic, I'm not convinced there's time to reverse the gaming board's decision. Maywood has already shut down its operations and Balmoral is in the process of doing that, although it remains open for harness racing this year. In addition, the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, which represents breeders, trainers, drivers and others in the industry – came out in support of the Racing Board's decision because Balmoral and Maywood had each sought only two racing days a week next year, far too few to support the people who make their living in harness racing. Hawthorne will host 117 days of harness racing next year, down from the 192 dates at Maywood and Balmoral Park this year, but far more than what those tracks had requested in 2016. Trainers and horse owners also told me that purses at Balmoral had decreased significantly in recent years making it nearly impossible for them to show a profit. They expressed optimism that Hawthorne's purses would increase, making it easier for them to make a living. Jones said he had not reached out to the horsemen, but planned to do so in the near future. "I respect their concerns and their problems," Jones said, "but this is about the larger community. This is about the impact on the entire south suburban region. And they have to understand that." Jones said he hoped to have his public hearing on Balmoral and Maywood sometime before Thanksgiving in order to gain support for his bill before Christmas. Since there is no place to find the odds on such things, I'm officially setting the line at 100-to-1. You know, I've always been a sucker for long shots. By Phil Kadner Reprinted with permission of The Southtown News

After a week of daily discussions between state officials and representatives of Pennsylvania's horse and harness racing industries and its race tracks, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding expressed optimism today that a long-term solution to the structural deficit in the State Racing Fund is within reach. "This has not been an easy process, but it has been an incredibly productive process," said Redding. "We have come a long way since last Friday when the future of racing in Pennsylvania was very much in doubt, but today, thanks to the tremendous work of a lot of people around the table, we find ourselves in a very much improved position. Everyone seems genuinely committed to finding a long-term, sustainable solution that will keep racing alive and well in Pennsylvania for years to come. "I want to thank everyone for their diligence and their willingness to return to the table day-after-day and talk through these issues," Redding added. "That goes for members of the General Assembly, the horsemen and the track operators. While we don't yet have a comprehensive agreement, we do agree on many of the major points. Those areas where differences remain are not insurmountable. Our goal has always been to reach a consensus among all of the stakeholders that promotes the future of racing in Pennsylvania. We believe that within another week, we can get there." Given the progress in conversations over the past week, Redding said the state was delaying any decision on whether it had to initiate the suspension of live racing in the state for one-week. Previously, it looked like a suspension of racing was to start on Oct. 30. The chairs of the State Horse and Harness Racing Commissions echoed Redding's optimism and appreciation for the ongoing dialogue with the industry and its stakeholders. "We are optimistic that this next week will get everyone where we need to be so that racing is not suspended," said Harness Racing Chairman Johnathan Newman. "The Harness Racing Commission appreciates all efforts extended by the various partner groups to get us to this point. We remain confident that we're on strong footing and are close to coming to an agreement." Similarly, Alan Novak, chairman of the State Horse Racing Commission said, "Significant progress has been made. Whenever you bring together a group representing diverse interests, there has to be time given to allow them to come to a compromise. We know that everyone involved is working in a cooperative spirit and my hope is that an agreement is reached soon." The questions over the future of equine racing in the commonwealth were brought to the forefront last week when the department announced a deficit State Racing Fund, leaving the state without the resources to maintain the financial integrity of the industry and to protect the wagering public. Pari-mutuel tax revenues from total handle — or the total amount wagered on racing — has declined tremendously over at least the past 15 years. In 2001, more than $1.46 billion was wagered on races in the state. In 2014, that number had declined to $427.5 million — a 71 percent decrease. Similarly, the state's share of tax revenues on those wagers decreased 65 percent over the same period, from $31.8 million in 2001 to a little more than $11 million in 2014. It costs between $18 million and $20 million to regulate racing in the commonwealth. In recent years, the Racing Fund's deficit has been filled using transfers from the Race Horse Development Fund, which is supported by a percentage of tax revenues from slot machine gaming. A transfer of $4.2 million, spread over fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15, allowed the Racing Fund to remain solvent. Governor Tom Wolf's budget proposed a $6.5 million transfer for fiscal year 2015-16. While the Race Horse Development Fund has helped to keep the Racing Fund afloat, the law that created it contributed to the present dilemma. Act 71 of 2004, or the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, increased the regulatory oversight responsibilities of the state racing commissions by 50 percent, adding two new race tracks to the four that existed at the time, but the act did not dedicate any of the approximately $2 billion in slot revenues that have been generated to date for the Race Horse Development Fund to meet that increased workload. The present deficit is also complicated by another factor. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted Act 52, a provision which imposed a 10 percent advanced deposit wagering tax on horse racing bets placed with companies other than the six licensed Pennsylvania racetracks via the Internet from a Pennsylvania-based IP address. As a result of litigation challenging the constitutionality of this provision, a $1.9 million tax refund must be paid from the Racing Fund. For more information on horse and harness racing in Pennsylvania, visit www.agriculture.pa.gov. Chairman Newman also reiterated that the Standardbred Sale that kicks-off today, Nov. 2 at the Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg was moving forward as planned. Reprinted with permission of the NJ.com site

Harrisburg, PA - After a week of daily discussions between state officials and representatives of Pennsylvania's horse and harness racing industries and its race tracks, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding expressed optimism today that a long-term solution to the structural deficit in the State Racing Fund is within reach. "This has not been an easy process, but it has been an incredibly productive process," said Redding. "We have come a long way since last Friday when the future of racing in Pennsylvania was very much in doubt, but today, thanks to the tremendous work of a lot of people around the table, we find ourselves in a very much improved position. Everyone seems genuinely committed to finding a long-term, sustainable solution that will keep racing alive and well in Pennsylvania for years to come. "I want to thank everyone for their diligence and their willingness to return to the table day-after-day and talk through these issues," Redding added. "That goes for members of the General Assembly, the horsemen and the track operators. While we don't yet have a comprehensive agreement, we do agree on many of the major points. Those areas where differences remain are not insurmountable. Our goal has always been to reach a consensus among all of the stakeholders that promotes the future of racing in Pennsylvania. We believe that within another week, we can get there." Given the progress in conversations over the past week, Redding said the state was delaying any decision on whether it had to initiate the suspension of live racing in the state for one-week. The chairs of the State Horse and Harness Racing Commissions echoed Redding's optimism and appreciation for the ongoing dialogue with the industry and its stakeholders. "We are optimistic that this next week will get everyone where we need to be so that racing is not suspended," said Harness Racing Chairman Johnathan Newman. "The Harness Racing Commission appreciates all efforts extended by the various partner groups to get us to this point. We remain confident that we're on strong footing and are close to coming to an agreement." Similarly, Alan Novak, chairman of the State Horse Racing Commission said, "Significant progress has been made. Whenever you bring together a group representing diverse interests, there has to be time given to allow them to come to a compromise. We know that everyone involved is working in a cooperative spirit and my hope is that an agreement is reached soon." The questions over the future of equine racing in the commonwealth were brought to the forefront last week when the department announced a deficit State Racing Fund, leaving the state without the resources to maintain the financial integrity of the industry and to protect the wagering public. Pari-mutuel tax revenues from total handle - or the total amount wagered on racing - has declined tremendously over at least the past 15 years. In 2001, more than $1.46 billion was wagered on races in the state. In 2014, that number had declined to $427.5 million - a 71 percent decrease. Similarly, the state's share of tax revenues on those wagers decreased 65 percent over the same period, from $31.8 million in 2001 to a little more than $11 million in 2014. It costs between $18 million and $20 million to regulate racing in the commonwealth. In recent years, the Racing Fund's deficit has been filled using transfers from the Race Horse Development Fund, which is supported by a percentage of tax revenues from slot machine gaming. A transfer of $4.2 million, spread over fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15, allowed the Racing Fund to remain solvent. Governor Tom Wolf's budget proposed a $6.5 million transfer for fiscal year 2015-16. While the Race Horse Development Fund has helped to keep the Racing Fund afloat, the law that created it contributed to the present dilemma. Act 71 of 2004, or the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, increased the regulatory oversight responsibilities of the state racing commissions by 50 percent, adding two new race tracks to the four that existed at the time, but the act did not dedicate any of the approximately $2 billion in slot revenues that have been generated to date for the Race Horse Development Fund to meet that increased workload. The present deficit is also complicated by another factor. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted Act 52, a provision which imposed a 10 percent advanced deposit wagering tax on horse racing bets placed with companies other than the six licensed Pennsylvania racetracks via the Internet from a Pennsylvania-based IP address. As a result of litigation challenging the constitutionality of this provision, a $1.9 million tax refund must be paid from the Racing Fund. For more information on horse and harness racing in Pennsylvania, visit www.agriculture.pa.gov. Chairman Newman also reiterated that the Standardbred Sale currently slated to kick-off Monday, November 2 at the Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg will move forward as planned. Brandi Hunter-Davenport, 717.787.5085 William R. Nichols | Press Aide Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture | Press Office 2301 North Cameron Street | Hbg PA 17110 Phone: 717.787.5085 | Fax: 717.705.8402  

Last week, state officials announced that the financial health of the Pennsylvania Racing Fund was declining and had reached a point where it could no longer sustain or protect the integrity of the racing industry. Officials noted without a fix in place, racing may have to be suspended. A one-week timeline was instituted for all vested stakeholders to come to consensus on a solution to address the structural deficit. This evening, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture provided the following update regarding the matter: "Considerable progress has been made over the course of the last week, in particular, the last 24 hours," said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. "We appreciate the engagement of all the parties - everyone from the track operators, the horsemen, and members of the General Assembly. While there is agreement on a vast number of the issues, more work remains on a few important, final points. We've asked all of the parties to reconvene tomorrow to further discuss these remaining issues. We remain optimistic." William R. Nichols | Press Aide Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture | Press Office 2301 North Cameron Street | Hbg PA 17110 Phone: 717.787.5085 | Fax: 717.705.8402  

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today released the following statement upon learning that the Department of Agriculture may begin to shut down the state’s horse racing industry next week because the State Racing Fund is now depleted: “Shutting down the horse racing industry would be devastating to the 500 horse breeders in Pennsylvania and the 23,000 people who are supported by the racing industry." "I urge the House of Representatives to swiftly act on legislation that would rescue this fund and thus protect an industry that generates $1.6 billion in annual economic activity in Pennsylvania.” “Legislation, however, is not the only solution to the racing fund’s woes." "In our audit of the racing fund released in June 2014, we warned that the health of the fund was in imminent danger." "While I understand that the Department of Agriculture is taking our recommendations seriously and is working on ways to put the fund back on solid ground permanently." "Today’s news makes it is clear that those efforts must be accelerated to ensure the viability of the racing industry in Pennsylvania." “The horse racing industry — like every industry — needs certainty and stability in regulation and oversight from the state.  A shutdown could well cause irreparable harm.”  The State Racing Fund pays for regulatory and oversight activities that include, safety measures to protect jockeys, and staffing the equine laboratories that conduct drug testing to protect horses and ensure the integrity of the races. Susan Woods - Press Secretary Department of Auditor General, Pennsylvania

LEXINGTON, KY - The President of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) today predicted that the currently unregulated horse breeding industry will ultimately be folded into any federal racing legislation that advances in Washington. "I fully anticipate that as current proposals advance in the legislative process, Members of Congress will heed comments made by a key supporter of federal intervention about the practices of Thoroughbred breeders that may be contributing to an inappropriate reliance on drugs," Ed Martin said. Prior to becoming involved with racing regulatory matters, Martin served as a senior aide on Capitol Hill for almost a decade. The President of the Humane Society of the United States and a member of The Jockey Club's coalition, Wayne Pacelle, wrote in a July 20, 2015 column published on the animal welfare website thedodo.com the following: "Doping horses for racing is more dangerous today than ever because breeding practices - which select for speed and champagne-glass legs - make the horses less sturdy and more vulnerable to breakdowns than they were even 10 or 20 years ago." The Thoroughbred breeding industry and related sales companies are not currently regulated by the states, creating a void that Martin predicted Congress would fill given the universal concern about Thoroughbred racing breakdowns. Martin noted that state racing commission medication reforms already implemented are starting to reduce catastrophic injuries in some jurisdictions as reported by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear at The Jockey Club's Roundtable conference this past weekend. He predicted that unregulated sales company medication policies that permit the stacking of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids to be used on horses going through the auction ring could be considered permissive. "I predict that Members of Congress will want to know why drugs need to be given to horses that have never raced and have not been injured," he said. The ARCI President said that if a state were to expand the jurisdiction of an ARCI member commission to regulate the breeding industry and sales companies, the association would begin working on Model Rules to assist that agency in meeting the legislative mandate. To date, that has not happened. Steve May

This morning (April 28) the Honorable Sandra J. Feuerstein of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York issued an order staying the administrative hearing of the New York State Gaming Commission against Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott for alleged overages of therapeutic medication. Mr. Mott has sued Commission members, employees and the state's equine testing lab for violating his civil rights as a Commission licensee pursuant to what is commonly referred to as a federal "1983" action. In his suit, Mott raises the issue that the Commission and its predecessor, the New York State Racing & Wagering Board, routinely and consistently deny licensees accused of drug offenses and legitimate medication overages the right to split sample collection and independent referee testing. In fact, in just the last two years, blood samples were denied to numerous accused licensees under the premise that, after the state's own testing was completed, "not enough" blood was left over to send to one such referee lab. Mott was denied independent testing of the blood sample extracted from the subject horse. “The Judge had legitimate questions as it related to the Commission’s practices in its sample collection, and ordered the attorneys for all parties to brief the issue and be back in court in June,” said Andrew Mollica, Mott’s attorney. The Commission hearing, scheduled for May 6, has now been stayed indefinitely. The court issued a briefing schedule with a return to court date of June 29.    

Four veterinarians entered guilty pleas for their illegal doping of thoroughbred race horses at Penn National Race Track in Grantville, Pennsylvania. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that Dr. Kevin Brophy, age 60, Florida, Dr. Fernando Motta, age 44, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Dr. Christopher Korte, age 43, Pueblo, Colorado, pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab in Harrisburg. Dr. Renee Nodine, age 52, Annville, pleaded guilty yesterday afternoon. Each defendant is charged with allegedly administering drugs to horses within 24 hours of when the horse was entered to race. This conduct was in violation of the state law prohibiting the rigging of publicly exhibited contests and regulations prohibiting the administration of drugs to horses within 24 hours of when they are entered to race. Additionally, because the administering of the drugs was in violation of the state criminal laws, rules and regulations governing thoroughbred racing, they were not dispensed in the course of the defendants’ professional practice. At the guilty plea proceedings before Magistrate Judge Schwab, Assistant United States Attorney William A. Behe explained that the drugs were not administered to treat the horses but to enhance the horses’ performance in the race or to give it an edge over other horses. According to Behe this constituted misbranding of the prescription animal drugs in violation of federal law. The alleged activity took place at various times beginning as early as 1986 and continuing up to August 2014. The Informations also allege that the defendants conspired with horse trainers, whose identities are “known to the United States”, to administer the drugs in violation of the laws, rules and regulations governing the conduct of thoroughbred racing. The guilty pleas this week were pursuant to plea agreements in which the defendants agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the United States in the continuing investigation. At the guilty plea proceedings Behe informed the court that cooperation by the defendants was an essential part of the plea agreement and that the defendants had already identified for the United States the many trainers with whom the defendants conspired with to illegally administer drugs to the horses. Behe identified for the court the drugs that were administered to include, among others, Kentucky Red, Carolina Gold, Bute, Dexamethasone, Banamine, Stop2, Estrogen, L-Arginine, and ACTH. According to the charges, trainers allegedly placed orders for drugs and the defendants, after administering the drugs, backdated the billing records to avoid detection. The defendants allegedly submitted false veterinarian treatment reports to the State Horse Racing Commission, omitting from those reports any reference to the drugs administered to horses at the track on race day. The filing of these reports and the backdating of billing records were, allegedly, to further the conspiracy by concealing the illegal activity. These acts had the potential to defraud other owners and trainers whose horses were entered in the same race and defrauded the betting public as well. The matter is being investigated by the Harrisburg Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Pennsylvania State Police. Assistant United States Attorney William A. Behe is prosecuting the cases for the United States. Indictments and criminal Informations are only allegations. All persons charged are presumed to be innocent unless and until found guilty in court. A sentence following a finding of guilty is imposed by the Judge after consideration of the applicable federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The maximum penalty in these cases under the federal statute is 2 years imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a $200,000 fine. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the Judge is also required to consider and weigh a number of factors, including the nature, circumstances and seriousness of the offense; the history and characteristics of the defendant; and the need to punish the defendant, protect the public and provide for the defendant’s educational, vocational and medical needs. For these reasons, the statutory maximum penalty for the offense is not an accurate indicator of the potential sentence for a specific defendant. By Paul Smith Reprinted with permission of Fox43.com

RENO, (Wild Horse Education) – A federal court judge in Reno, NV has granted a coalition of wild horse advocacy and conservation groups a Temporary Restraining Order to block the sale of unbranded horses at a slaughter auction tomorrow in Fallon, Nevada. The groups sued to stop the sale of unbranded horses who were captured last weekend on public and tribal lands in northern Nevada, alleging that unbranded horses were likely federally-protected wild horses originating from the nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Little Owyhee Herd Management Area. The order throws into question tomorrow’s auction at the Fallon Livestock Exchange, where nearly 500 horses are sitting in pens awaiting their fate. The horses in question were rounded up by the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe with approval of the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM. In response to the lawsuit filed by the public interest firm Meyer, Gltizenstein & Crystal with local counsel Gordon B. Cowan on behalf of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, its founding organization Return to Freedom, The Cloud Foundation, the Western Watersheds Project and advocate Laura Leigh, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda M. Du found: “Plaintiffs have shown serious questions …that wild horses were improperly rounded up during the gather from August 11-13, 2013. .. Plaintiffs have demonstrated an immediate threat of irreparable harm if the status quo is not maintained, that is the sale of wild horses and their possible slaughter. . . . The public interest is served when the Court maintains the status quo to ensure wild horses are not improperly removed and auctioned for sale to potentially be slaughtered because of an agency action.” Du’s TRO prohibits the sale of all unbranded horses at tomorrow’s slaughter auction until the hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, August 21, 2013. “Judge Du has stepped in to do what the federal government refused to do: act to prevent federally protected wild horses from being sold at a slaughter auction,” said Suzanne Roy, Director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. “We are grateful for this federal court decision, but remain outraged by the federal government’s complicity in this dirty operation that has sentenced hundreds of horses to horrific deaths at slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico.” “Like the nearly 170 horses that I rescued from this livestock auction three years ago, many of these horses are wild horses who were removed from federal lands. They were denied federal protection under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and the judge has taken a stand for all those mares, foals, yearlings and mature stallions who are a day away from being sold to kill buyers and sent to slaughter,” said Ellie Phipps Price, AWHPC supporter and owner of the renowned Durell Vineyard in Sonoma, California. “The tribes and the U.S. government need to choose birth control for wild horses over roundup and slaughter.” “We want to get to the bottom of this and understand how wild horses may have been compromised through stealth negotiations between the federal government and the tribe,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom. “It is the legal responsibility of the Forest Service and the BLM to preserve and protect wild horses on our public lands. When wild horses roam outside of their designated Herd Management Areas, it should be the concern of these agencies to return them to their rangelands- not support covert horse trading deals sending wild horses to auction and slaughter.” “Sometimes the fight to protect our wild horses is difficult and complex. This decision shows that when we all work together and stay the course, we can achieve our mutual goals,” said Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education. “I am proud to be part of this effort. Together, we can turn this around to save America’s mustangs on our public lands in the West.” A total of 467 horses were captured by the tribe and delivered to the slaughter auction, where they await their fate. An undetermined number of these horses are unbranded and likely to be wild horses. The Forest Service has acknowledged thatmost of these horses will be purchased by kill buyers and trucked to slaughter plants in Canada or Mexico. Photographs of the horses show hundreds of mares and foals, along with yearlings and adults crammed into pens at the stockyard.  

Meatballs have been withdrawn from stores throughout Europe as the international horse meat scare, which could include former harness racing horses, takes another turn - but shops in Canada and the USA are apparently not affected.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has quarantined two farms, one in Franklinville, Gloucester County and one in Dennisville, Cape May County, after horses at each farm were exposed to a horse that developed the highly infectious equine herpes myeloencephalopathy (EHM).

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher today announced the 2012 Governor's Award for Horseperson of the Year and Secretary of Agriculture Awards for New Jersey Thoroughbred and Standardbred Horses of the Year.

The Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) today approved a request for $79.5 million to help counties, towns and nonprofit organizations preserve farmland across New Jersey and to further State-initiated farmland preservation efforts, Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher announced.

On Thursday (August 30) at 2 p.m. at the Windsor Fair, the Maine Harness Horsemen's Association, Maine Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, Windsor Fair, Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, Scarborough Downs and Ocean Properties will be hosting a legislative candidate's day at the Windsor Fair.

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