In defence of Propulsion’s original connections

Tony Alagna and the original owners of Propulsion disclosed the trotter’s lower nerve procedures to the proper authorities according to USTA rules that don’t require the association to be informed directly. Note that horses that have undergone the procedure, even below the pasterns, are now banned from racing in Ontario unless they were already on an approved list prior to March.

by Dave Briggs

On Friday, HRU published an account of the controversy involving trotter Propulsion, his trainer Daniel Redén and Svensk Travsport (ST, the Swedish Trotting Association) (full story here) — an investigation ST revealed Saturday may take weeks to resolve. Since that article, the publication has received some feedback suggesting the horse’s original trainer, Tony Alagna, or the horse’s original owners — Brittany Farms, Joe Sbrocco, Little E LLC and a stable comprised of Marvin Katz, Al Libfeld and Sam Goldband —should have disclosed to the United States Trotting Association (USTA) that lower nerve procedures had been done on both of the trotter’s front legs before the horse was sold at the 2015 Tattersalls Summer Mixed Sale on Aug. 2 at The Meadowlands.

The procedure was done in late-April of 2015 and Alagna did notify the Meadowlands Racetracks, where the horse was racing at the time, that the procedure had been done. An examination of USTA rules states that is all he was required to do.

On page 77 of the USTA’s 2020 rules and regulations is rule 20.10 regarding Nerved Horses.The complete rule is as follows: All horses that have been nerved shall be so designated on the USTA registration certificate and electronic eligibility and be certified by a practicing veterinarian. It is the responsibility of the owner of the horse at the time the horse is nerved to see that this information is placed on the registration certificate and the electronic eligibility. No trainer or owner will be permitted to enter or start a horse that is high nerved. It shall be the responsibility of the owner and/or trainer of a horse that has been low-nerved to post on the bulletin board in the racing office at each racetrack where the horse competes the fact that the horse has been low-nerved and it is the responsibility of each track member to provide a space in the racing office where the fact of nerving can be posted in accordance with this rule. Only the palmar (posterior) digital neurectomy (low nerving) by surgical or other physical (example: freezing) or chemical (example: injecting alcohol) means will be permitted in horses to be raced. Only the posterior digital nerve and middle branches to the palmar (posterior) (back) part of the foot may be desensitized. This procedure must be done below the fetlock. The dorsal (anterior) (front) branches must be preserved so the horse has feeling at the coronary band at the front of the foot on both sides of the midline. Lack of feeling at the coronary band on the front of the foot is prima facie evidence that a horse has been nerved in contravention of this rule. Incisions over nerves at or above the fetlock are evidence that the horse has been high nerved, even if partial or complete feeling is present at the front of the coronary band R 20 S 6-10 78 plantar nerves) is permitted by any means: surgical, physical, including but not limited to freezing (cryosurgery) or chemical, including but not limited to injection of alcohol. The use or injection of snake venom as a chemical means of nerving is strictly prohibited.

Given the Propulsion mess, and to avoid similar problems in the future, the rule likely needs some updating to require direct reporting to the USTA within a reasonable timeline.

At issue in this case is the fact the procedure was done in late-April, but the USTA did not find out about it until late-August after the horse was sold to Redén. The USTA didn’t update its records — including the export certificate it sent to ST — until the horse was already in Sweden.

Could the situation have been avoided had any of Propulsion’s connections notified the USTA that the horse had undergone lower nerve procedures? If hindsight is 20-20, then the answer is yes.

The bigger points are that: 1. The USTA rule on nerving does not say it has to be informed directly and does not require a timeline for being informed. So, the original connections did inform the proper authorities and did nothing wrong and 2. Propulsion’s original connections are extremely unlikely to have known about a Swedish rule that horses that have undergone nerve procedures are ineligible to race there. So, that makes it unreasonable for them to have acted accordingly in terms of further disclosure, especially since they had no idea the horse would end up racing in a jurisdiction that bans the procedure.

That said, this case is hopefully a lesson to all that full and speedy disclosure is normally a great policy. So is careful scrutiny of the rules and regulations that exist in different jurisdictions.

For example, in Canada, horses that have been “nerved” have been banned from racing since March of 2020, unless they were already on a list of such horses and are, effectively, grandfathered in.

This is the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s (AGCO) rule on nerving in Canada’s largest racing jurisdiction:

11.01.02 A horse shall not be eligible to be declared in to race at any raceway unless:

… h. The horse has not been denerved permanently or temporarily desensitized by any method above its pastern. For the purposes of this rule a horse that has been denerved, blocked with alcohol or any other drug or medicament or procedure that totally desensitizes the volar or plantar nerves, will be deemed to have been denerved. The decision at any given time whether the horse has been denerved shall be the Commission Veterinarian’s or the Official Veterinarian’s.
Horses that have been denerved prior to March 2, 2020, will be eligible to race provided the horse was previously on the Commission’s list of denerved horses. No new horses will be added to the Commission’s list of denerved horses.
i. The Commission shall post a list of all denerved horses.