DEADWOOD, S.D. (KELO) — Several trainers whose race horses were found to have more authorized drugs in them than South Dakota allows have claimed they didn’t know rules had changed.

The South Dakota Gaming Commission issued fines of $1,000 against Gilbert W. Ecoffey and Robert Don Johnson and $500 against Perry Cavanaugh on Wednesday for the condition of 12 of the horses that were tested after the Fort Pierre meet October 1-2.

The three trainers also received marks against their national licenses.

The commissioners approved the fines after returning from a closed-door session where they talked about what to do.

The board of stewards who oversaw the Fort Pierre races recommended that the penalties be one-half of the purse money that each of the dozen horses won.

Six horses trained by Ecoffey that were found to be in violation brought in $14,895. Three horses trained by Johnson found to be in violation won $13,500. Three horses trained by Cavanaugh found to be in violation won $2,575.

The commission uses authorized-drug standards from the Association of Racing
Commissioners International’s controlled therapeutic medication schedule.

The commission had been following ARCI’s 2016 version in recent years. It included a 2.0 maximum level of Phyenlbutazone, known in racing circles as “bute.” In June, the commission adopted the 2020 version that reduced the maximum level to 0.3.

The commission’s rules that were distributed at the Fort Pierre races in October said that the commission follows the ARCI schedule but didn’t specify the maximum level of Phyenlbutazone now allowed.

Johnson said Wednesday he asked two commissioners at the track for a copy but didn’t get one. He said he tried to read the rules on the internet but that was “impossible.”

Susan Christian, the commission’s executive secretary, said she was at the track and could have printed out a copy for Johnson in three seconds.

Ecoffey said horses he trains to race in multiple states where differing levels of Phyenlbutazone are allowed. He said South Dakota’s new 0.3 level was “very low” and a lot of horsemen weren’t aware of the change.

“This year it said nothing in the condition book,” Ecoffey said. He added, “It takes a lot of work to find it online.” He acknowledged he had multiple medication violations. “We needed to let horsemen know a little bit.”

Doug Abraham of Pierre is the commission’s attorney. He noted that state racing rules say each licensee is responsible for knowing any amendments to the rules and that trainers are responsible for the condition of each horse regardless of other parties.

“This is about racing integrity,” Abraham told the commission. “You can argue that you don’t like the rules, but they were adopted.”