A 20-year suspension and $100,000 fine meted out to Woodbine trainer Robert Gerl in May (as reported in Canadian Thoroughbred in June) topped the dozens of fines and penalties handed down at Canada’s five major Thoroughbred tracks over the past year.

In 209 steward rulings at Woodbine, Century Mile, Hastings, Assiniboia Downs (ASD) and Fort Erie, the enforcement hammer came down on everything from errant riding and overuse of the whip to badmouthing officials and failing to have a horse ready for a Lasix shot. A double penalty to a rider at ASD made it seem a jockey could be trying hard to win – and yet not be trying hard enough.

Particularly striking were the differing penalties for interference during a race. At Woodbine, interference resulted in a jockey being suspended for three days (which happened 19 times) but the same infraction at Century Mile drew only a one-day suspension (10 times), at Hastings usually a $250 fine – or less (nine times) and at ASD, a $200 fine (five times).

“Failing to maintain a straight course” commonly resulted in $100 fines to jockeys at Hastings (10 times) and Century Mile (six times) but no such ruling was made at Woodbine, ASD and Fort Erie. That’s likely because that infraction was seen as interference at those tracks, requiring heavier fines or suspensions.

And while bad conduct and offensive language hardly drew the attention of stewards at Woodbine, ASD or Fort Erie, it was the wild west at Hastings (10 adverse rulings) and Century Mile (nine adverse rulings). Fines up to $500 were slapped on exercise riders, grooms, owner/trainers, jockeys, a jockey’s agent and even a starter and an assistant starter.

But one track stood alone in offering an alternative to fines. Hastings issued “official warnings” in half of the 10 cases involving crop misuse. Also, such things as entering an ineligible horse or “causing a scratch” drew a slap on the wrist at Hastings compared to a financial hit at other tracks.

Drug penalties

Robert Gerl’s stunning 20-year suspension and $100K fine, one of the severest penalties in recent Canadian racing memory, resulted from his maiden horses Arafat and Komunist testing positive for ostarine, a non-therapeutic drug with anabolic steroid qualities that is in its investigative stages for human use. Gerl had been training at Woodbine since 2007 with 1,132 starters earning almost $3.1 million (USD).

Gerl’s case was one of three “banned substances” cases held over from last year’s racing. In the other two cases, Andrew Smith, a trainer at Woodbine since 1987, was fined $2,000 and suspended three months for a capsaicin positive that was part of a controversial “where did the pepper come from?” mystery that started in 2020. And Layne Giliforte, a 10-year trainer at Ontario tracks, received a $2,500 fine and 45-day suspension when a horse’s blood sample at Fort Erie tested positive for TC02, an overabundance of carbon dioxide that has been linked to “milkshaking,” administering sodium bicarbonate to a horse in the hopes that it will help him run faster, a theory that is now thoroughly debunked.

Only a couple of drug rulings were made on this year’s race cards:

  • Woodbine trainer Desmond Maynard was fined $1,000 and suspended for 15 days after Baby Mo, who finished second in a race on Sept. 2 at odds of 9-1, tested positive for the animal sedative acepromazine.
  • And at Fort Erie, owner/trainer Robert Warner was fined $500 and given a three-day suspension after his six-year-old gelding Federal Law tested positive for the Class 4 drug altrenogest, which is used to suppress estrus in mares. The gelding had finished second on Aug. 9 at odds of 27-1.

Whipping offences

Use of the crop, or rather misuse of the crop, resulted in the most penalties at Century Mile (15) and ASD (13) but offending jockeys paid less at Century Mile ($100) than they did at ASD, Woodbine or Fort Erie ($200). Despite Woodbine’s lengthy season, only eight fines were handed out for improper crop use. At Fort Erie, there were only a couple.

Woodbine did, however, assess the year’s biggest fine for errant whipping, $1,200, to Patrick Husbands. That amount was based on 20 per cent of the $6,000 he earned for winning the $100,000 Ruling Angel Stakes. Stewards noted he had “raised his hand above his shoulder” while urging Summertime Magic, which is a no-no at Woodbine. (The 20 per cent penalty applies to jockey’s earnings from first to fifth place only in races where the purse is $100,000 or more.)

At the other end of the scale, of the 10 cases of crop misuse at Hastings, only five resulted in fines (four for $100 and one for $50) while reprimands – “official warnings” – were dispensed in the other five instances.

Each province has different rules for crop use, with BC being the most lenient. Hastings just forbids a jockey from using a whip “excessively, indiscriminately or brutally” whereas jockeys riding in Ontario can only use the whip three times in succession with no stated limit except not to be ‘excessive’. The whip cannot be used in a cocked position, overhanded or above the shoulder; the horse must be given a chance to respond and whip use should not be continued if the horse does not respond.

At ASD in Winnipeg, jockeys can use the whip a maximum of 10 times in increments of two or less, allowing at least two strides for the horse to respond between each application, and may not raise the wrist above the rider’s helmet.

At Century Mile in Alberta, jockeys may apply the crop for three hits in succession as long as they wait for the horse to respond between three-strike groupings.

Not trying

Race stewards obviously want jockeys to try as hard as they can to get the best position for their horses and are fined for not doing so. For “not persevering with their mounts” at Woodbine, Luis Contreras was fined $300 and Sahin Civaci $200 and at Century Mile N’Rico Prescod was fined $100 “for easing up before the finish line” and Rafael Rivas was fined $100 for his first offense doing the same thing and $200 for doing it a second time.

Which leads to this question: Can a jockey be trying too hard (overwhipping) and not trying hard enough (easing a horse) in the same race? It seems so. ASD’s leading jockey Jorge Carreno was fined $850, $350 of which was for “whipping Hidden Grace more than the allowable amount” and the other $500 for “easing Hidden Grace before the finish line” in a race on July 13.

The harshest riding penalty of the year was handed Woodbine apprentice jockey James Chau. He was suspended 20 days after his lateral move in a race on July 8 resulted in a clipping-heels incident that unseated jockey Steve Jadoo. That was Chau’s first and only race at Woodbine after leaving Hastings where he had ridden 10 times with one second-place finish.

“Unprofessional” conduct

Racing is a highly competitive pursuit that obviously can provoke strong emotions and it appeared to be open season at Century Mile and Hastings where misbehaviour resulted in 19 fines. Among nine rulings at Century Mile, jockey Julio Cesar Roque was fined $500 for an altercation in the jockey’s quarters, Riley Rycroft was hit with the same fine and probation for “unprofessionalism” as a jockey’s agent, one owner/trainer paid $200 for acting offensively toward the Board of Stewards and another faced the same fine for unprofessional conduct in the barn.

Then there were two exercise/pony persons each fined $100 for the way they treated an outrider and two grooms were hit with $100 fines and another for $50 for their stable antics.

Similarly, among 10 rulings at Hastings, jockey Alexander Marti had his license cancelled in August for the remainder of the year for causing his second jockey room brawl. And owners/trainers and other licensees paid fines up to $300 for disagreeable behaviour and foul language in the test barn, in the race office and even toward the Gaming Policy and Enforcement inspector.

By contrast, only five $200 fines were handed out in total at Woodbine, ASD and Fort Erie for either disrespecting a racing or security official or “inappropriate” conduct toward another licensee.

Cannabis use

Despite cannabis use being legal in Canada, Century Mile stewards fined two jockeys, Dane Nelson and Alexander Marti, $150 each and suspended each for 10 calendar days after a lab test for marijuana use. In addition, an exercise rider/groom/pony person was suspended 10 days for “being under the influence.”

Other transgressions

Fines were meted out for a host of other transgressions such as not having a horse ready for the Lasix-administration team about four hours before a horse’s race, entering a horse without proper workouts, reporting the wrong weight to the clerk of the scales (an ASD jockey was fined $400 and suspended for a day), improper labelling of injectables, entering an ineligible horse, frivolous claims of foul, not getting a horse to the paddock on time and even a jockey not wearing his flak jacket during a post parade.

Where To Find The Rulings

Of the 209 rulings made by Canadian stewards at the five major Thoroughbred tracks this year, the 86 for Woodbine and Fort Erie are posted under AGCO Rulings on Woodbine’s “Horsepeople” website, the 52 for Century Mile are listed under Thoroughbred Rulings—Alberta and the 38 for Assiniboia Downs are posted under Thoroughbred Rulings – Manitoba. Hastings’ 73 rulings are not posted online but scans were provided to Canadian Thoroughbred by BC’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.