Pennsylvania Commission Rescinds Ness Penalties From ’22

The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission (PSHRC) has rescinded an Aug. 18, 2022, ruling against trainer Jamie Ness that suspended him six months and fined him $5,000 for a positive drug test for bufotenine in a winning horse at Parx.

Bufotenine is a psychoactive substance often referred to as “toad venom” because one of its sources is the skin of toads from the genus Bufo. In humans, it has been used for centuries in traditional forms of medicine as both a hallucinogen and a purported aphrodisiac. Starting in the 1990s, it briefly cycled into popularity as a street drug of abuse in the United States because of its ability to produce effects similar to those from mescaline and psilocybin mushrooms.

But another source of bufotenine is reed canary grass, a pasture plant. Ness’s attorney, Drew Mollica, had argued that inadvertent contamination could have been a factor as the source of the traces of bufotenine that showed up in the positive post-race blood test of Crabs N Beer (Blofeld), who won a starter-optional claimer by 2 1/2 lengths as the 3-5 favorite on Feb. 23, 2022.

“Common sense and science carried the day, and a possible career-threatening suspension was rescinded,” Mollica told TDN. “The system is often draconian and unfair, but in this instance justice was served.”

The rescinded ruling, dated Mar. 6, 2023, reads as follows:

“The Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) does not specify a threshold level for the substance Bufotenine. Based upon the PSHRC’s analysis and investigation, the Commission has determined that the proper procedure would be to utilize the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) recommended residual limit of 10mcg/ml in urine. Based on the IFHA established threshold level, the finding in Sample No. 390762 will not be determined as a positive result. As such, there is no violation of the Commission’s Rules of Racing. Therefore, the Parx Board of Stewards Ruling No. 22226PP is hereby RESCINDED.”

Mollica explained the appeals process this way:

“We appealed on numerous levels. We did not go to a hearing, but they investigated it, and this is what they came up with. Bufotenine is a known contaminant, and our premise was it’s culled in urine. They never took urine from this horse. They only took blood. And we argued that it was a known contaminant, and it was a low number in blood, and it should never have been a positive at all.”

Ness is currently third in the North American training standings so far this year, and seventh based on earnings. He is currently atop the Parx leaderboard in both wins and earnings for 2023.

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