Four harness racing trainers whose horses were involved in blood-doping allegations by The Red Mile have sued the Lexington racetrack for defamation.
In-depth testing done at the trainers' request determined in December that the four horses were negative for the performance-enhancing drugs erythropoietin or darbepoetin.
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The four trainers — Jan Johnson, Robert McIntosh, James Arledge and Joseph Seekman — filed a civil suit Monday against The Red Mile, contending the track did not follow Kentucky Horse Racing Commission protocols for providing for tests to confirm the initial results.
The suit alleges unspecified damages, including the $1,500 per horse cost of follow-up testing, lost entry fees when the horses were not allowed to race again, potential lost purses from those races, and attorneys' fees.
Red Mile president and chief executive Joe Costa could not be reached for comment.
The trainers' attorney, Tom Miller of Lexington, said Tuesday that all they really want is a public apology and the testing costs repaid but that they have been unable to get any response from the racetrack.
"These guys have never tried to profit from this," Miller said of the trainers. "It's just out of absolute frustration, that they've been publicly accused of egregious misconduct, forced to spend their own money to do the testing, and then ignored when it turns out that they were not culpable. ... It was our opinion that we had no alternative (but to sue) to get any kind of relief. If they would ever call me we'd hopefully be able to work it out quickly."
Last fall, The Red Mile announced it would conduct out-of-competition testing for blood-doping agents known generally as "EPO" at its prestigious two-week Grand Circuit meeting in September and October. EPO can increase a horse's stamina for weeks but can be detected only for a few days after it is given, so the illegal drugs typically are not discovered in conventional pre- or post-race testing.
Trainers were required to sign, as part of their stall leases for the meet, consent waivers agreeing to the testing, which was done under "house rules" rather than the state regulatory authority because Kentucky does not have an out-of-competition testing rule.
About 175 blood samples were drawn by racing commission vets and sent to an Indianapolis lab for screening tests at the behest of the track.
Costa said on Oct. 3 that four horses tested positive, but the trainers and horses were not publicly identified.
But, according to the suit, their names leaked out and became widely known within the Standardbred racing world.
One trainer, Jan Johnson, alleged in documents filed with the suit that he was warned against having his horse's blood sent for further testing.
The trainers were told "that if they actually requested true confirmatory testing of the split samples they would be punished or sanctioned, including, but not limited to, being banned for life from racing horses trained by them at Red Mile's facilities, having earned purses withheld and having the ... screen results reported to other racetracks as positive tests for EPO, while if they did not attempt to confirm the tests, they would not be further punished, although they would not receive the purses due for the horses with an EPO positive," the suit says.
According to the suit, the trainers pressed the track unsuccessfully for weeks to have the samples sent to Pennsylvania for further testing.