Snake Juice

by Ed Meyer

posted on December 5, 2008 in News | No Comments >>

Attorneys for Rodney Stewart, the veterinarian suspended for five years by Kentucky racing authorities in the 2007 “cobra venom” case, which also implicated trainer Patrick Biancone, said in opening statements in an appellate hearing on Wednesday morning that the suspension against their client was excessive and should be lifted.

Mike Meuser and Karen Murphy are representing Stewart, who received a four-year ban for possession of prohibited substances and a one-year suspension for failure to cooperate in the investigation. The appeal is being heard by Bob Layton, a hearing officer for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which is represented by attorney Bob Watt.

In his opening statements, Meuser said Stewart had no intention of using the prohibited substances found in a refrigerator and packed in a soft-sided cooler in one of three barns Biancone occupied, and that they had been packed by Stewart’s wife in preparation for the couple’s move to New York. In fact, Meuser contended, Stewart wasn’t even aware of the cooler’s contents, which the attorney said were placed in the refrigerator because it was a “hot June day.”

Meuser said, the three vials of prohibited cobra toxin found in the bag were still shrink-wrapped. Another prohibited substance found, Carbidopa-Levodopa (a human drug to treat Parkinson’s disease), was still in its original container, Meuser said, and its usage date had expired. “There is no evidence there was any attempted use of any of these substances,” said Meuser, who added that the cooler also contained rabies vaccines for dogs and cats.

Watt, in his statement, said the cobra venom, a powerful painkiller, had been purchased from BioToxins, a Florida-based company that specialized in snake venom. Watt referred to other substances discovered in the June 22, 2007 barn searches conducted by investigators with the racing commission (then known as the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority) and Keeneland security, including Ketoconazole, “something called Throat RX, and one injectable honey colored solution marked ‘For Mythical Elmo.’”

Meuser did not address the latter substances in his opening statement.

Watt said Stewart and his attorneys failed to properly respond to requests that were made to Stewart for billing and computer records, which resulted in the one-year suspension for failure to cooperate. Murphy countered that the ban should be lifted because the commission failed to give Stewart a hearing within 48 hours of a request for a stay of the suspension. She also complained that the request for a home computer was unreasonable and that the commission “was fishing for further violations,” even going so far, she said, as conducting tests in Hong Kong.

Biancone, who recently returned to training in California, was out of racing about one year, accepting a six-month suspension and agreeing not to apply for his trainer’s license for another six months.

A number of witnesses are being called in the case. Layton is expected to make a ruling within 60 days of the completion of the hearing.