The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), which regulates horse racing in the province, has suspended the trainer’s license of ROBERT GERL for 20 years and issued the Palgrave, ON resident a $100,000 fine for two positive tests obtained last fall at Woodbine.

The AGCO has taken these regulatory actions due to alleged infractions of the Rules of Thoroughbred Racing involving two horses, Arafat and Komunist, who tested positive for ostarine (enobosarm), a non-therapeutic substance, in two separate races.

Ostarine, also known as MK-2866, is considered a Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator (SARM). It is not FDA approved but is often found in supplements, in particular those used for bodybuilding. It is currently banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and National Collegiate Athletic Association.

According to the Banned Substance Control Group website, Ostarine was  “developed in the mid-2000s to help combat bone and muscle wasting in people suffering from a range of debilitating diseases and aging but is still being clinically researched and is not yet an approved drug. Ostarine is designed to activate the androgen receptor in a similar fashion to anabolic steroids. Because it produces strength gains similar to those of anabolic steroids without unpopular androgenic side effects, the drug has become a prevalent steroid alternative for bodybuilders and athletes.”

The site also reports that “SARMS is a broad term referring to various substances that bind to androgen receptors and activate in certain tissues such as muscle and bone. Though some early SARMS were steroidal in origin, the term SARMS commonly refers to a new and distinct category of drugs—Non-steroidal Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators—which is part of their appeal. Tissue selectivity is a key component of how SARMS are seen to work, bolstering gains in certain areas with less damage to other body parts such as the liver or prostate.”

In 2020, American Quarter Horse trainer Bobby Martinez was suspended for 34 years for eight positive tests for ostarine.

Gerl, who has 65 winners from just over 1,100 starters since 2007 but was 0-for-50 in the last two years, was reached by Canadian Thoroughbred Tuesday morning in Palgrave where he is recuperating from an injury.

“I only found out [Monday] about the suspension,” said Gerl. “They told me last fall about the positive tests and it has been seven months since then.  I called them a few times during that time but they never told me anything.”

Two AGCO Senior Stewards reports from two racing dates in October noted the positive test results. Each report stated that ostarine was a Class II drug (not a non-therapeutic substance that carries a higher penalty). Each horse was placed on the steward’s list for a period of 90 days:

Oct 22 2021 – Trainer Robert Gerl was notified that his horse “Arafat” provided a positive analysis for the Class II drug Ostarine following the running the eighth race on October 7, 2021 at Woodbine. “Arafat” is hereby placed on the Stewards list and ineligible to enter or race in the province of Ontario for ninety days, October 20, 2021 through January 17, 2022. AGCO ruling #1476818
Oct 28 – Notification of a Positive test Trainer Robert Gerl, Tag # 73 21288 R8 October 15/21 for the horse Komunist. Drug was Ostarine Class 2. Trainer was notified. The Horse Komunist is suspended for a period of 90 days.

“I thought it was a joke,” said Gerl. “I have never heard of anything like it. They told me it was a bodybuilding drug.”

A news release from the AGCO stated:

In line with its focus on promoting the integrity and public confidence in horse racing in Ontario, the AGCO selects horses competing in a race to provide a post-race sample (blood) for testing. “ARAFAT” and “KOMUNIST” were selected for testing after their respective races and they both tested positive for ostarine. In addition to the post-race testing, Out of Competition testing was also conducted in October 2021, confirming the presence of the ostarine in one horse.

In addition to the suspension of the licence and the monetary penalty, the AGCO has ordered that “ARAFAT” and “KOMUNIST” be declared unplaced in their races, and their order of finish changed. All purse monies associated with these horses on the affected race dates must therefore be returned for redistribution to other participants in those races. In addition, any horses owned or controlled in whole or in part by Mr. Gerl shall not be eligible to race in Ontario.

“The health and welfare of racehorses, and the integrity of racing are of primary concern to the AGCO,” said Tom Mungham, CEO and Registrar of the AGCO. “We will continue to take all appropriate actions to protect horses and maintain the fairness of racing. The administration of prohibited substances, especially non-therapeutic drugs, have no business in the sport, and positive test results can lead to severe consequences for license holders.”

Follow-up questions regarding the 20-year suspension, fine, and incidents were sent to the AGCO but it declined to answer.

Gerl, who has the right to appeal the AGCO’s action to the Horse Racing Appeal Panel (HRAP), an independent adjudicative body mandated to hear appeals of decisions, is uncertain how he will proceed.

“I need a few days to get over the shock to figure out what I am going to do.”