Svensk Travsport (ST) is investigating whether to strip Daniel Redén’s trainee Propulsion of his Elitloppet victory — and, perhaps more than $3.6 million (U.S.) in European earnings — after ST failed to notice the horse had undergone a fully disclosed nerve procedure in the United States five years ago under previous connections.
by Dave Briggs
Before Svensk Travsport (ST, the Swedish Trotting Association) destroys the career of one of its most promising young trainers, I hope it holds itself to the same high standards it holds the industry it governs.
This week, days after Daniel Redén’s star pupil Propulsion won the Elitloppet on Sunday at Solvalla, word began circulating out of Sweden that the U.S.-bred son of Muscle Hill—Danae might be stripped of that victory — or worse: ALL European victories — because he underwent a lower nerve procedure on both front legs in the United States while under U.S. ownership.
Horses that undergo nerve procedures — regardless of how long ago that procedure was done — are not allowed to race by Sweden’s strict rules.
Sweden should be admired for its strict stance on integrity, so long as Svensk Travsport’s own integrity is beyond reproach. Sadly, that does not appear to be the case here.
(Before we go any further, full disclosure: HRU’s European Report columnist Thomas Hedlund works for Redén, which is why I am writing about this case, not Hedlund. This is my opinion, not Hedlund’s or Redén’s).
An investigation is underway and Swedish authorities had yet to rule on the case by press time Thursday night. That did not stop Maria Croon, the CEO of ST, from talking about trainer responsibility on Swedish television this week when asked about the case.
Trainer responsibility is an important rule, of course, but not absent of complete context. The circumstances are worth hearing in this case because they appear to point strongly to ST’s incompetence and culpability in the mistakes made. That Croon would make any public statement, even to speak about trainer responsibility in general terms before the investigation is complete, is highly questionable and certainly appears to be an attempt for the notoriously strict association to throw blame elsewhere despite its obvious failings in the case.
Dig into the details and, clearly, this one smacks of a clerical error on ST’s part and not a case of a trainer trying to cheat.
Yes, Redén, 40, is aware that horses that have undergone a nerve procedure — something that is legal and relatively common in American racing when down on the lower part of legs — cannot race in Sweden. But, Redén said he was not aware Propulsion underwent the procedure before he purchased the trotter for $210,000 at the 2015 Tattersalls Summer Mixed Sale on Aug. 2 at The Meadowlands (Redén and Brixton Medical AB are officially listed as the buyers in the sales results, though it was Marcus Melander that was physically at the sale and made the purchase on Redén’s behalf).
Redén told HRU that had he been aware of the nerve procedure, he never would have purchased the horse in the first place.
“Of course not,” Redén said. “It wouldn’t make any sense at all to try to buy and bring a horse to Sweden that wasn’t allowed to race.”
United States Trotting Association (USTA) chief operating officer and registrar TC Lane appears to back up Redén’s story that the trainer did not know about the nerve procedure before buying the horse. The timeline is very important here. Stick with me.
Documents HRU has received show the nerve procedure was done in April of 2015.
Tony Alagna, the horse’s trainer at that time, told HRU this week that Propulsion was racing at the Meadowlands when the procedure was done and he informed the track, as required.
Lane said the USTA was not officially informed that Propulsion had undergone the nerve procedure until “on or around August 18th, 2015” — some two weeks after he was sold to Redén and Brixton Medical AB of Sweden.
Don’t ask me why it took so long for the USTA to be told in this case, but that’s irrelevant since the procedure is not an illegal one in the United States where the horse was racing at the time.
(Side note: Why is it so difficult in the digital age for standardbred associations to share information? In the name of transparency, integrity and all things that are good and holy, it should be possible to instantly share information around the world when it is updated.)
Lane said when the USTA learned the procedure had been done it contacted the horse’s previous owner Brittany Farms — which shared the horse with Joe Sbrocco, Little E LLC and a stable comprised of Marvin Katz, Al Libfeld and Sam Goldband — and asked Brittany to return the original registration in order to update its documents. Subsequently, both the USTA electronic eligibility documents and its Pathway system were updated to disclose the nerve procedure.
By then, Propulsion was long gone from North America.
The trotter left for Sweden on Aug. 20, 2015. He landed in Belgium and Redén said the official certificate he came with made no mention of the nerve procedure — which is a further indication the trainer did not know, at that time, that the procedure had been done. It would have been difficult for Redén to have known since the USTA records were not updated before the horse arrived in Europe.
Lane said the USTA received an application for export for Propulsion on Sept. 10, 2015.
“Upon the receipt of the referenced application, the export certificate was issued by the USTA on Sept. 14, 2015, and forwarded directly to Svensk Travsport,” Lane wrote. “Propulsion was also examined prior to export by a veterinarian on August 7th with references to both front limbs with freeze fire marks being present. A new registration certificate with updated information indicating the new information and the notation that the horse had been nerved, was mailed to Brixton Medical in Sweden.”
Redén insisted he never received the updated export certificate in the mail, but we do strongly believe that Svensk Travsport received Propulsion’s updated export certificate — and this part of the story is important.
Before Propulsion first raced in Europe on Oct. 7, 2015 at Solvalla, Svensk Travsport was, allegedly, in possession of a document (available here) that clearly states the horse had undergone the nerve procedure in the United States, making the horse ineligible to race in Sweden by ST rules.
This is not a document akin to a pedigree page thick with black type. It’s clear and simple and the procedure is noted near the top of the page under markings, which should be hard to miss for an association that is so strict about rules.
Clearly, Svensk Travsport, as the sport’s governing body in Sweden, is at some fault here for failing to read the document properly and take appropriate action.
ST might be forgiven for its error if only a month or two had passed, but Propulsion has raced in Sweden for FIVE YEARS at the sport’s highest level.
Surely, Svensk Travsport — which is not above issuing major fines and suspensions for the slightest infractions — should hold itself accountable for not doing its due diligence in the clerical department year after year. Surely, ST has rules it must follow to ensure the eligibility of horses. After all, Propulsion raced in Sweden’s biggest race, the Elitloppet, five straight times and not once did Svensk Travsport look back at his records thoroughly enough to catch this.
That is particularly strange and a notable failure on Svensk Travsport’s part to uphold its own rules considering Propulsion is an American-bred that raced in the United States. Swedish authorities typically view U.S. rules with disdain for a perceived lack of integrity. Surely, one would expect a U.S. horse to be under even more scrutiny when racing in Sweden.
Also, Svensk Travsport falls under the country’s agriculture ministry and is tasked with retaining the integrity of the Swedish stud book — a matter officials do not take lightly.
Further, Redén said that in June of 2019, “Swedish officials had heard rumors that Propulsion had the nerve issue in the USA, so two veterinarians came to my farm and examined the horse, along with the official from the association.”
The trainer said both veterinarians cleared the horse and both determined he had feeling in his feet.
That is not surprising since nerve block procedures are, “a relatively temporary surgical treatment (in the United States) for a racehorse dealing with chronic foot lameness,” said renowned equine surgeon Dr. Patty Hogan of New Jersey when asked about the procedure in general terms. “A nerving lasts an average of one-two years and in all cases the nerves will grow back. That is a medical fact. I have had to redo some nervings in horses that end up having longer careers and are still plagued by foot soreness.”
Thursday morning, ST ruled that, despite the controversy and what may be decided in the Propulsion case, the stallion’s certificate to breed mares in Sweden still is valid and his progeny born in 2019, 2020 and 2021 will be eligible to race in Sweden. That suggests the broken rule wasn’t enough to punish Propulsion’s offspring. Let’s hope that is also a sign of some leniency to come.
Not only did Svensk Travsport fail to properly follow its own rules before allowing Propulsion to race, two veterinarians and an association official cleared the trotter to continue racing after an inspection, which came almost a year before Sunday’s Elitloppet victory.
To now say Propulsion should be stripped of everything he has earned in Sweden seems particularly punitive.
Let me stress that none of this fully excuses or absolves Redén. The trainer’s responsibility rule — as flawed as it sometimes is — is an important one that must be upheld to protect animal welfare, which is an important pillar of our sport. To disregard it would set a dangerous precedent. Though the nerve procedure was done by others, it is Redén’s responsibility to know, and be vigilant about, what has been done to a horse in his care, especially if a procedure contravenes Swedish rules.
Likely a year ago, when vets and an association official came to investigate the rumors of the nerve procedure, instead of dismissing them as a rumor and moving on with Propulsion’s training after being cleared to do so, Redén should have done his own due diligence and checked with U.S. authorities — or even Alagna — to see if the procedure had been done and then acted accordingly.
That said, to suggest Redén has been trying to cheat is absurd given the facts.
To suggest he is solely to blame is overly harsh and myopic.
To point solely at Redén for breaking rules when Svensk Travsport didn’t follow its own, exposes ST as hypocrites.
Now some rumors suggest Redén — a winner of more than $13 million between 2015 and 2019 and the man that purchased Propulsion’s full-brother for $1 million at last fall’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale — will not only be handed a severe fine and suspension, he might also be forced to return all $3.6 million (approx. in U.S. currency) that Propulsion has earned in Europe.
That, Redén said, would be his worst nightmare and likely mark the end of his career. As it is, he said the world is falling apart around him this week.
“I feel so sorry for the horse who has fought so hard so many times against some of the best horses in the world. He’s a champion to me and certainly also to many fans,” the trainer said.
Some punishment should be expected, but a punitive one will be both a travesty and a double standard.
With one hand, Svensk Travsport would be covering up the fact it did not follow its own rules. With the other, it would be issuing a death sentence to Redén’s career.