Berthiaume On Cobalt Fallout

Published: January 12, 2015 08:40 am EST

Prominent Québec racehorse owner Richard Berthiaume says the owner of The Meadowlands racetrack can bar his horses if he wants to, but "don't sully my name and reputation or put my integrity in doubt. I've always been honest with everyone."

In an interview Saturday from his winter home in Florida, Berthiaume said he can't figure out why he and the horses he entrusted to trainer Corey Johnson now are being frozen out of the industry because Johnson was suspended for a positive test in Ontario on another horse and unofficial tests conducted at a Hong Kong lab and commissioned by The Meadowlands showed that Berthiaume's Breeders Crown entrants Traceur Hanover and Voelz Hanover had cobalt levels five times higher than the threshold level typically found in a horse's system.

Berthiaume, 68, said he was never told the outcome of the hearing on Johnson's Ontario positive, and the first he heard of the cobalt test was from a U.S.-based journalist.

"I didn't talk to him (Johnson) again after the Breeders Crown (where Traceur Hanover won the two-year-old pacing colt final)," Berthiaume said. "I've only seen him once in my life. He didn't tell me they weren't taking my entries (at U.S. tracks), and he should have. My horses weren't racing and I didn't know why.

"I've been in the game a long time, used a lot of trainers, and in general they don't talk to you, call you or tell you anything. That's one of their faults. You also don't control them."

Berthiaume said he'd never heard cobalt was even an issue in the industry. "I don't know a thing about it."

Although he switched his six U.S.-based horses to trainer Pat Lachance, Berthiaume said tracks still are not accepting the entries. Voelz Hanover was a judges' scratch at Yonkers on Friday.

"She's had a number of different trainers, made over $1.7 million dollars. She wasn't made by Corey Johnson. Neither was Traceur Hanover. He only had them a month (prior to the Crown)," Berthiaume said.

As an owner, he figures he's spent $20 million in Standardbred racing over the last 25 years, spending up to $150,000 per yearling at auction and routinely staking his purchases to all major races.

"I've been committed to the game for a long time, and I'm all for integrity in racing. What I can't figure out is why, all of a sudden, I'm being attacked."

(A Trot Insider Exclusive by Paul Delean)



Start restructuring the purse distribution. Take 15% off 1st place and redistribute to the bottom five. People are being driven out as they cannot compete week after week with no cheque. This will also narrow the profit margin for the ones who want to deviate from the rules. It will also discourage those who entertain the thought of using PEDs that their lions share will be 35% and not 50%. By doing this it will also create a good image for the sport as the bettor will see his horse trying to finish 7th, instead of pulling up after the 3/4 pole.

I agree 100% If you spend money as an owner, you should know and be accountable of what your trainer is doing. If you close your eyes and then get caught, it's easy to deny allegations. I applaud Mr. Gural's comments to try to clean up! If someone was training my horses, I would speak to them more then once! It doesn't make sense!

Absolutely no disrespect to anyone concerned in this event, particularly not Mr. Berthiaume - after all the money he has poured into harness racing. However - something about the whole story just doesn't seem to fit right or sit right...particularly some comments he made in a post BC story on SC about supporting his trainer of choice.....makes me wonder if he just blindly signs cheques for training invoices prior to scrutinizing them? It can happen.
I applaud Mr. Gural's efforts in his clean up, however, I find he sometimes puts the racebike before the horse ( ie: The Brian Sears incident ) on the other hand - I do understand the emotion involved in this sport - regardless of what seat you take behind the scene or out front. Just my thoughts .....


I checked the USTA fines and suspensions , I found (3) high cobalts . Trainers had fines and suspensions , but zero ( horses or owners )

Owner to the commission. "Why penalize me, You gave the guy(in this case)a license!" Start handing out penalties that deter.

We all remember Schultz in "Hogan's Heroes" when he says,..."I hear nothing, I see nothing, and I know nothing" well,.... Mr. Jeff Gural is not a fool, he knows, he sees, and hears
everything about this sport. That is why Mr. Gural is on the right track, not like some others in this industry.

James McInnis "but just because a trainer's horses have 5x (unofficial) more in their system then the rest of the field"

Actually that's not the case at all - We don't know what the other horses tested at (and maybe never will, or even if others were tested). These tested at 5x over a Chinese standard for thoroughbreds. That's what Mr Gural has used to justify his ban. They read well below the USTA guidelines for NA, a standard that the USTA went to considerable effort and expense to establish.
I'm still waiting for the results of tests on other BC horses to see if any of them were over the Chinese standard. Why won't they release those results?

In reply to by SAS

I would suggest not using this substance at all. Then none of the horses involved would be 5x the Chinese standard or any standard. That's the problem with all the violators of drug enhancment. When they get caught they make excuses and take no accountability.

In reply to by SAS

"As a result, Mr. Gural has advised the owner of these horses, Richard Berthiaume, that by electing not to remove his horses from the Corey Johnson stable when Mr. Johnson’s license was suspended, all horses owned by Mr. Berthiaume are now unable to participate at The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs."

"It is our hope that by making the owners responsible as well as the trainers, it will send a message to others in the industry that they should think twice before using a trainer who has been suspended in another jurisdiction".

The sooner people realize that it is a privilege to race and NOT a right, the better off the industry will be. Government bodies issue you a licence but all the tracks in North America are privately owned. If track owners banded together to exclude a participant they could and would be successful. Fair or not Mr Berthiaume is being made an example for the rest of the industry.

Let me correct you Mr Strasbourg, I never said the owner has no say please read carefully.

Jeff (Gural) keep up the good work. For those horse people that want to tarnish this industry, the owner of the Meadowlands is telling you all,...."not in my neck of the woods". BRAVO!!JEFF

I have made a couple of comments on this topic that may have left the impression that I am calling into question Mr Berthiaume's integrity or knowledge of the situation. This is absolutley not the case and I certainly would not question the integrtiy of a man I do not know or have never met. I am simply pointing out what everyone already seems to be in agreement with and that is that unfortunatley there are people in racing that will cheat and do anything to win with little thought to the detriment of the game and beautiful animal that most of us to write on these emails enjoy. I take no pleasure in criticizing this game or any of it's participants. Having enjoyed this game for a very long time now I know first hand as do many others how exciting and enjoyalbe it can be when it is run in a manner that is clean, fair and non abusive to any of the participants, owners,trainers, grooms fans and horses alike. I write what I do because I would like an entire new generation of people to experience this game.

Mr McInnis
Mr Gural is not rewriting the rules of harness racing (although I think they certainly need to be). He is making everyone aware of the rules at HIS tracks which HE owns and therefore is entitled to do. If you want to set rules then buy a track and invest your tens of millions of dollars.
The bottom line is this. Certainly there are times when MEDICATION is appropriate
and in fact needed as clearly pointed out by Mr. Scott Horner. It would be very helpful to the entire industry if there could be a standard rule regarding which medications are acceptable and when right across the country and even globally if that were possible and at least everyone would know what is allowed and nobody could claim ignorance. Similarly it would be great if there were one regulator that had the power to fine, suspend or band completely anyone who has been caught cheating and the violation can be fairly proven.
I will offer an analogy. I have worked in the finance industry for a large investment firm for 30 years. As some of you may know in Canada there is a push for a nationwide securities regulator so that there can be uniform rules across the country. To do this we need all the provinces onside and for each province to understand it is in the best interest of ALL the stakeholders in the industry move in this direction so that all firms, clients, salespeople, traders etc. are playing by the same rules.
However until that happens we need to play by the rules that each province sets out. It's their province and their laws and we need to respect that.
The same applies here. It's Mr Gural's tracks and he can run them as he sees fit. In the absence of nationwide or global uniformity of rules his rules must be respected. Plain and simple.
I think that no matter which side of the coin you're on, whether an owner, trainer,or fan,everyone can at least agree that a clean game benefits the entire industry not the least of which is the poor animal who must endure this abuse.

I feel bad for the owner but if what I have read is correct , the owner decided to stick with his trainer after a positive in Ontario , he did not make a move to another trainer at that time --then he is ultimately responsible --he closed his eyes to the problem and he suffers---
Many, many thanks Mr Gural for trying to clean up our loved industry

Further to my comment before. I have now had emails from people who have read my post and gave me feedback. I think I am on the right track

I support Mr. Berthiaume and would be proud to have him as a partner on a horse. Singling him out is absolute nonsense. There are bigger fish who seem to be immune to any scrutiny.

Mr Berthiaume. I believe that you have more, or as much, integrity in this sport than Mr. Gural.

I've seen this movie before: trainer gets caught, fines, suspensions, etc. etc. Gets boring after a while. Now the real question: how long before we see Corey Johnson back in action...3 months, 6 months, guess it depends how good your lawyer is. Or even better, will his Dad Colin take over the training duties? At least Mr. Gural is trying.

This situation is like the monkey that gets it's hand caught in the cookie jar when it tries to take too many cookies! Most owners know the trainers that have the reputation of stepping their horses up and making them some fast money, but are also taking a chance of getting caught "with their hand in the cookie jar"

The relationship between an owner and a trainer , in most cases, is one of principal and agent. In many cases , at common law , the principal is held responsible for the actions of his/her agent. IMO, owners who think of their horses like machines or certificates should go race cars or trade securities or other but not own race horses. Now, not every positive test should result in banning. Humans make errors and withdrawal times can be miscalculated. That needs to be recognized.
IMO, as an ancillary matter, the meds classification system is irrational in many respects and needs revisiting. Many years ago, I sent a horse to U of Penn for a stress test. The outcome was the horse bled which couldn't (as is often the case) be detected by ordinary scoping (because ordinary scoping doesn't provide a view of the lungs). UoP vet recommended clenbuterol for 2 days before, and on day of race, and 2 days after, plus puffers (horse had allergies). I responded the horse could't receive those meds for days before racing under racing's rules in Ontario. Vet's response was that's ridiculous from a horse health perspective, that is when he needs those meds most for his health. Indeed.

Plain & simple, you cannot penalize the owner in these situations, he pays huge money under the assumption that his trainer is "doing the right thing".
If the owner moves his horses to a different trainer re-test the cobalt levels as they are entered to race and decide @ that point whether they race or not.

I was once an owner too, albeit a small one with nowhere near the amount of money invested as some others. My point when I said that the owner is accountable is that the owners have all the power of ridding the cheats out of this game and that is by simply doing their due diligience when hiring a trainer (as someone on this thread has already said) and then not hiring them. Once trainers get the message that if they cheat they will not be hired eventually if they want to continue in this industry they will play by the rules. And that is exactly what I believe the message is that Mr Gural is trying to send and exactly what is needed. If you really expect me to believe that every single owner out there has no idea what trainers are doing and who the suspect trainers are then I have a bridge to sell you.
There have been many instances in the past where trainers have cheated blatantly and repeatedly and the owners did not care because they were making a lot of money and could easily move their horses to another trainer when their current one got caught. Mr Gural is closing that loophole and I applaud him for it and anyone who cares about the future of harness racing or horse racing should be doing the same. If you are an owner who previously took no interest in what your trainer was doing here's a suggestion. The next time your horse goes from 6th in 1:54 to first in 1:51 maybe you should ask a few questions of your trainer assuming you really don't know what happened.

Mr. Riga,

I also applaud Mr. Gural for trying to clean up our sport. But you cannot say an owner should be responsible for what a trainer gives a horse, its like saying you choose the doctor so if he does wrong its the patient fault. I own several horses and even if I trust my trainer does what's best for my horses, it does not mean I want him to inject poison in my horses and that he should not be accountable for his actions.

I don't agree with Mr. Montroy either, who says the owner has no say in how the horses should be managed. If I invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a business I want a say. Plain and simple. I pay the horses and bills and there is no "carte blanche".

In my view the trainer should be punished as per the rules that govern our sports and the horses now allowed to race until the impact of the poison is gone. But once that time expires, the owner should be able to have their horses trained by another trainer. After investigation, if the owner is also at fault, than he should also be banned as per our laws. The owners should not be "collateral damage".... how do you want to attract new owners to our sport by saying invest your money..... shut up... and if the horses get caught you also pay a price for a decision you did not make......

As far as the relationship between an owner and a trainer, I believe it should be like any other partnership. They should work as a team. The trainer should update the owner of the condition of the horses and discuss any issues and make decisions based on what's best for the horses/business, there should be trust and a sense of partnership. Has anyone ever invested so much money in a business without a say? Why would it be different in our sport?

So we have a standardbred horse owner who spends millions of dollars on horses that is not in regular communication with his trainers and from his statement to the press seems unconcerned with this arrangement. I cannot comprehend how Mr Gural has besmirched this owners integrity, the owner owns the barred horse, it's his property and he should be held responsible for the misconduct of said trainer of barred horse.

The Meadowlands publicly stated many months ago its position on cobalt and testing for same. I commend Jeff Gural for walking the talk on integrity. Jeff is seemingly applying a " know your trainer" rule to owners. Such a rule applies in the banking and legal industries. Hopefully, the application of such a rule will limit or stop the usage of " beards".

Mr Berthiaume.
I have read the story on Standardbred Canada and no where did I find Mr Gural attacking your integrity or "sulling your name. As an owner of standardbred racehorses you have the right to chose your trainer preference. By doing so you also take on any previous "baggage" this trainer may carry with him/her.You have every right no know a trainers history and I would suggest Mr Johnson's record would have been easily attainable prior to entrusting him with your horses. I commend Mr Gural for taking a stand and sending a clear message when it comes to racing at "his" tracks.

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Berthiaume but I have no doubt that he is not responsible for the cobalt levels in the horses. I too have used many different trainers. It becomes a necessity as your barn grows due to conflicts most trainers have with their clients. Also I have had trainers get suspended so I end my dealings with them. I also try to spread work around. Currently I use 5 different trainers.

I like Mr. Berthiaume do not train my own horses. I am just a businessman who loves racing and has the means to invest money in the sport. Those who know me, know I like to talk about races and drivers but I never get involved in training. We rely on trainers to do the right thing. I have had 4 different trainers get suspended for various infractions. 3 of those times was for TCO2 tests. I can tell you that I tell all my trainers not to cheat but they did it anyway. So who do you trust? I asked that question of Rod Seiling during a hearing. He told me it was up to me to have a contract with the trainer not to cheat. My response was thank you for that advice sir.

There is no guideline for anyone getting into the business about how to select a trainer. Pricing is all over the map with no guidelines. Arrogance of some trainers is off the charts. Some treat the owners like they are idiots and have no business being involved in any decisions. Trainers also talk about other trainers as if everyone is a chemist and is cheating except them.

Trainers ask for various pricing but most end up at $2000-$2500 per month plus extra per start for paddocking and shipping. We pay trainers 5% that comes from the purse money directly over and above that. There are some trainers who are in the top group at WEG who ask for $5000 per month and still others that are twice that. Why such a big difference? The industry has no standards.

Making owners responsible for trainers is like making me responsible for my stock broker. The five major banks get fined every month for wrong doings in the market. Who do I trust? Do you trust your government? Just asking

I like the tough stance Mr. Gural is taking. However, there needs to be a limit to which a horse owner is punished otherwise we will discourage investment in our industry. In pro sports, teams are often fined as a result of a player or coach's transgressions but they are not suspended or banned due to their employee's actions. Continued fines, large enough to be a deterrent and have to be paid by the owner, embarrassment to the team, and a soiled reputation that is brought on by individuals that don't want to follow the rules provide ample punishment in other sports. Responsible owners are expected to take steps to ensure the integrity of the sport is upheld going forward. It's no different in harness racing where the owner should have some interest and knowledge about what the trainer is doing but does not control the caretaker who is after all a professional.
In reading Richard Berthiaume's response I would expect he will be more careful in choosing who he trusts the care of his horses to going forward, a little more due diligence before hiring a trainer would have served him well in this circumstance.

Under the rules is cobalt illegal ? Or is it a grey area ? The trainer , was under appeal . Not found guilty of anything . He was given the right to defend himself . The meadowlands accepted his entries . The owner sat back and waited for the process to be dealt with . So I can't understand why , the owner or any of these or any other his horses , should be held accountable ?

In reply to by horsingaround60

Wonder how the owners and trainers of the other horses that competed clean feel?
Traceur Hanover won and pocketed 250K for his win in the BC.

In reply to by horsingaround60

I agree. Is there a maximum level of cobalt that led to this controversy? Vitamin B12 has cobalt ...and enhances performance, but just because a trainer's horses have 5x (unofficial) more in their system then the rest of the field, can you justly disqualifying them? Gural is rewriting the "rules and regulations" of harness racing.

There is a "war" going on and Mr Gural is the "General" in charge of the "Integrity" side. As in every war, until, and if it is won, there is always "Collateral Damage". In the War for Integrity in harness racing, that collateral damage is, and will continue to be, the owners... for reasons stated by others, and to try and ensure the owners choose trainers of "Integrity". Rightly or wrongly it must be thus!

If the trainer an owner uses is a cheat, even if the owner is not involved or aware of it, sometimes he gets caught up in the scandal. Whether it is fair or unfair is another debate. There are some owners that would be aware of what is going on but I assume most would not be, and that's where the problem lies. How can the industry be sure when they are passing out penalties? No one is going to admit to it. If a trainer is putting poison in a horse's system to try and win a race he should be banned for life.

In my opinion, the owner or the horse should not be at fault or be punished for something another person (trainer) who is supposed to be in charge and responsible for what goes on in his business. I also know that there are owners who try to dictate to trainers how their horses should be treated and managed. This type of an owner should train his horses himself and not sit in the background and put the total responsibility on a trainer... and most of all, a trainer in this kind of a situation should not accept horses from a person who wants to run his business. Now unless the people who do not want to accept Mr. Berthiaume's horses have concrete proof that the horse or the owner asked for an overdose of cobalt, the blame should go back to the trainer and the horses should be allowed to race. The owner pays a fee so that they can participate in races. In this case I am sure that is was not the horse that gave himself an overdose, or was it Mr. Berthiaume. I know that Mr. Gural is trying to, and doing a good job of bringing integrity to the sport of kings, if he has proof, evidence of wrong doing by the owner, then let it be known.

At The Meadowlands a horse cannot be kicked or given poison.

Peter litwin

Your trainer was caught cheating and as the one who pays him you are responsible and accountable.
I applaud Mr. Gural for trying to clean up this game which has been made suspect by far too many for far too long.

In reply to by Sean S

If you are the passenger in your own car while someone else is caught excessively speeding, the car is impounded. You don't get to bypass the law just because someone else was driving.
Owners do need to take some responsibility for their choice of trainer.

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