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Trainer Dan Blacker suspended 90 days after 527 violations, already appeals

ARCADIA, CA - SEPTEMBER 27, 2019 — Dan Blacker, trainer with horse Hackberry, that ran 4th in Del Mar Derby, and Friday afternoon he's running in the last race, second choice morning line, at Santa Anita Park as it opens for 23-day Autumn Meet in Arcadia. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
Dan Blacker, shown here in 2019, has already appealed his 90-day suspension and $15,000 fine for 527 violations of a CHRB rule requiring a veterinary exam no more than 72 hours before a workout. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Trainer Dan Blacker was suspended 90 days and fined $15,000 for 527 violations of the California Horse Racing Board rule that says a horse must be inspected by a veterinarian no more than 72 hours before conducting a workout.

Since the suspension was more than 60 days, Blacker must move all of his horses to other trainers and remove any signage at his barn at Santa Anita. The suspension was scheduled to run from Feb. 26 to May 25.

Darrell Vienna, Blacker’s attorney, filed an appeal and request for a stay on the penalties Tuesday but did not comment beyond that.

While 527 is a huge number, it underscored an additional problem, that the CHRB had a rule that it couldn’t enforce because it didn’t have the resources to easily identify horses that did not have the required examination before a workout. Blacker’s violations were only discovered after a routine investigation into the death of Animae, an unraced 2-year-old filly who was euthanized after sustaining injuries to her pelvis and vertebrae during a workout on July 1.

CHRB investigator Steve Manila determined that Animae did not have an exam before three of her four workouts, including the one in which she broke down. Manila then looked at all of the workouts under Blacker between Jan. 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023, and found there was no exam in 527 of the 789 official workouts, which is a timed high-speed drill of varying distances.

Read more: Why a trainer with 527 violations is still racing horses at Santa Anita

The day after The Times published a story about Blacker’s violations and the CHRB’s inability to enforce rule 1878, the CHRB contracted with InCompass Solutions, which developed the reporting software, to come up with a fix that would simplify the process. The updated software has been in use for a couple of months, according to Scott Chaney, executive director of the CHRB.

Blacker, who runs a stable generally between 25 to 35 horses, had three fatalities since 2012 and none between 2014 and 2022. Dr. Jeff Blea, equine medical director of the CHRB, said it was impossible to determine if a veterinary exam of Animae could have detected if anything was wrong. There was nothing unusual in the necropsy.

Though Vienna would not share his reasons or strategy for an appeal, an examination of the stewards' hearing transcript pointed to some areas that could be at the center of their argument.

Based on the questions asked, Vienna tried to show that if the CHRB had been following its own enforcement rules this would have been a minor issue that could have resulted in a nominal fine and no suspension.

Read more: Future of horse racing in California discussed at tension-filled meeting

Dr. Timothy Grande, chief official veterinarian of the CHRB, testified in a steward’s hearing on Nov. 15 that if a trainer had committed a violation shortly after the rule went into effect, the consequences would have been minimal.

“My tendency would be to give a warning at least in the early stages,” Grande said. “I think the rules came in effect roughly a year-and-a-half ago to give a warning to the trainer or to whoever else was responsible.”

Vienna then pointed out that Blacker’s first violation was the day the rule was implemented.

Grande went on to say: “The workout rule 1878 was always one where it was going to be a lot to chew on and take a lot more manpower to … if we were going to try and enforce every single horse.”

Vienna asked Grande: “Do you believe that but for the delay of the CHRB enforcing CHRB rule 1878 against Mr. Blacker that it is highly unlikely that he would have accumulated hundreds of violations?”

“I would agree with that,” Grande said.

Read more: Why do race horses keep dying? Inside the sport's push to solve a formidable problem

Blea, when asked how a trainer could accumulate 526 infractions before one was caught, said: "I can't explain that."

Still, the CHRB might argue that it's a trainer’s responsibility to know all the rules, regardless of enforcement.

“Plus, there is a rule in the rules that says the licensee should know the rules,” Blea told The Times last year. Blea also said trainers received several notices about the change in the rule that required checks within 72 hours before a workout.

The ruling by the stewards was made Sunday and posted on the CHRB website Monday. Blacker was seen in a photo posted on X by Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani, a horse racing owner, at the Super Bowl on Sunday when the ruling was issued.

Blacker’s wife, Christina, is an anchor and commentator on the horse racing and betting network FanDuel TV. A network spokesman said it would treat the suspension no differently than if it happened to any other trainer and mention it if appropriate.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.