Trainer Graham Motion appeals suspension, questions medication protocol, Keeneland testing

Trainer Graham Motion spoke with jockey John Velazquez before the start of a race at Keeneland on April 12.
Trainer Graham Motion spoke with jockey John Velazquez before the start of a race at Keeneland on April 12. AP

Trainer Graham Motion, who has trained champions including 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and 2014 Breeders' Cup Turf hero Main Sequence, has appealed a ruling by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission suspending him five days and fining him $500 for a medication overage in the mare Kitten's Point at Keeneland last April.

The medication violation is the first for Motion in his 23-year career as a trainer.

Kitten's Point, owned by George Strawbridge Jr., won the Grade III Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland on April 24 but was found to have too much of the medication methocarbamol. The sample was confirmed at the University of California-Davis laboratory at a level of 2.9 nanograms per milliliter in her blood, above Kentucky's limit of 1.0.

Methocarbamol, also known as Robaxin, is a muscle relaxant and is classified as a Class C drug by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Class C drugs are considered "those that have a therapeutic indication in the horse and have low potential to influence performance based on their presence."

After a hearing before the Board of Stewards, Motion was suspended five days from Oct. 13 to 17, during which he is "denied the privileges of all facilities under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission." Kitten's Point has been disqualified from the victory and must forfeit the $90,000 in purse money that she earned in the $150,000 Bewitch Stakes, pending the appeal. The disqualification of Kitten's Point elevates Cay Dancer, trained by Chad Brown, as the victor in the Bewitch. Parimutuel wagering is not affected.

In a statement posted on his website, Motion stated that the recommended withdrawal time for methocarbamol in many jurisdictions, including Kentucky, is 48 hours and that Kitten's Point was last treated with it seven days before the race.

When reached by the Herald-Leader, Motion emphatically took issue with the lack of research done in establishing that withdrawal time, and he expressed concern over the way the samples were handled.

"It would be much easier for me just to pay the fine and take the suspension. I could use a five-day vacation. But that's not the point," Motion told the Herald-Leader. "The point is, we have a problem here, and this just shows how big the problem is. There is no research to back up 48 hours (withdrawal time). We're given this protocol to follow, and it turns out that the protocol we're following is done with one treatment and one treatment only. And that's not sufficient to be giving us guidelines with this medication, which I'm finding out.

"We have evidence to show that Robaxin that's given orally stays in the system beyond 48 hours, and this should have been dealt with. What more can we do than follow the guidelines conservatively, which is exactly what I did? I did it all winter in all other jurisdictions. We handled it the same way. And there was no margin for error in this case, because this filly was given the last dose of her prescription the Friday before the race, which was the week before. And I know that because we didn't have any more in the barn. There is no gray area here where someone messed up. I know we did nothing wrong. So that shows to me there is a problem here."

Kentucky chief state steward Barbara Borden said she could not comment on the ruling because it is under appeal.

Motion said he understands the standards trainers are held to when it comes to being responsible for their charges' medication, but he wants jurisdictions held to equally rigorous standards in the handling of test samples, given the sensitivity of the testing.

Motion specifically mentioned the room where test samples are stored at Keeneland. He said that room is used as the tack room for the outriders until two days before the meet begins.

"If we're being held to these incredibly high standards where the testing is so precise, how can they be handling our samples in a tack room that two days before was occupied by the outriders. Is that right?" Motion asked. "And we're getting ready to run The Breeders' Cup here. I think people would be pretty shocked to hear about that.

"A nanogram is a billionth of a gram. This goes beyond me; this is a concern for every trainer that is running a horse at Breeders' Cup the next month. I know I did nothing wrong, so I've got to defend myself and I've got to defend all of us as trainers. Most people don't fight these things because it's not worth it. That's why nothing gets done. And I don't blame them for that. But I happen to feel really strongly about it and I'm not just going to lay down and take a fine or a suspension without putting out my points."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader