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Schoenthal Gets Reduced Provisional Suspension

Phil Schoenthal receives a 15-day provisional suspension that ends April 22.

Phil Schoenthal

Phil Schoenthal

Anne M. Eberhardt

Midlantic trainer Phil Schoenthal has had a provisional suspension from two methamphetamine positives reduced to 15 days and had his cases stayed after the suspension is served until new rules related to human substance abuse are reviewed and potentially adopted by the Federal Trade Commission.

Schoenthal was provisionally suspended April 9 by the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit after a 3-year-old stakes winner named Determined Driver and a 6-year-old stakes winner named Prodigy Doll tested positive for the illegal stimulant commonly known as meth. Because the trainer has already served eight days, his provisional suspension will end April 22.

The trainer got the reduced suspension because he was able to produce positive test results for meth from both a groom and an exercise rider who handled these horses, and he could show extraordinary steps taken to educate his employees about the risks of taking drugs in the barn—illegal and prescription—with policies and penalties in place for monitoring and violations. 

Schoenthal said a two-year suspension and $25,000 penalty given to trainer Jonathan Wong in February for a metformin positive opened his eyes. 

"I don't know Jonathan and I don't know anything about his case, but I read the arbitrator's ruling and realized what he presented as his defense. I would have done the same. I told my employees not to pee in stalls, but in Jonathan's case they threw it out because he could not prove he had done that," Schoenthal said. "I realized I was not doing enough to protect myself if it ever happened to me.

"I also realized we are dealing with an organization that expects us to do things the way the real world does things, and racetracks have not operated like the real world for hundreds of years," he continued. "We have to have HR policies, we have to have drug policies, we have to have drug enforcement policies, and we probably need to do random drug testing. We have to do these things to show we are serious about our occupations."

Schoenthal tackled the issue by drafting new policies he presented to his employees, in English and Spanish, one afternoon over pizza. He told his workers that prescription medication should be taken at home and if that was not possible, then they had to wash their hands thoroughly after taking any medication. All family members and friends were also prohibited from having any contact with horses in the barn. Each employee then signed a statement that the new rules had been reviewed and understood. The trainer followed up with signs in the barn warning employees not to urinate in the stalls, installed video cameras to monitor activity, and then conducted a surprise drug test. 

"I think that is what saved my bacon," he said. "I don't think I would have achieved this outcome, which I'm happy with, if I had not done all this stuff."

Schoenthal's case is among eight involving meth positives that have been stayed pending action by the FTC on proposed rule changes. 

The proposed rules would cap the period of ineligibility related to human substances of abuse to 60 days if HIWU determines that it has a reasonable basis to conclude that, based upon the applicable facts and circumstances, the finding was likely the result of inadvertent human transfer. The 60-day sanction may be reduced if evidence of the source is provided, according to Alexa Ravit, HIWU's director of communications and Outreach. 

"As a result of the proposed changes, HIWU has elected to stay pending Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program cases for human substances of abuse whose potential periods of ineligibility would be affected by these rule updates. We will process these cases once the FTC acts on the proposed rules. All such cases, including Schoenthal's, are/will still be pending. They have not been resolved," she said.

"HIWU chose to reduce the length of Schoenthal's provisional suspension based on the information we received from him, including evidence of source and the steps he took to prevent inadvertent transfer of human substances of abuse such as methamphetamine."

Under the proposed rule changes, a violation also contemplates a fine of not more than $5,000 or 5% of the total purse, plus disqualification of race results. If the rules are approved, trainers with stayed cases for human substances of abuse will have the option to request a hearing and go through the full adjudication process or sign an admission and acceptance of consequences.

Schoenthal said he is well aware that HIWU is charged with enforcing the rules that are in place but he also said he believes that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority and its enforcement agency HIWU are open and willing to review these rules with horsemen and make practical changes, based on the lessons learned over the last year and a half.

"I feel like they understand what is going on and that people are getting caught up in the tide of change," he said. "What HISA and HIWU were asked to do was a Herculean task that could never been gotten right at the start, even if they had three years to plan for it. There were going to be growing pains. My experience is that I feel HISA and HIWU are actively trying to work it out and be fair. I felt like they were trying to be fair with me and not just hang me out to dry."