Kentucky Supreme Court Will Not Review Cobra Venom Case

The Kentucky Supreme Court has declined to review a lower court ruling overturning a four-year suspension imposed on equine veterinarian Rodney Stewart, DVM, for possession of cobra venom and other substances.

In September 2009, Stewart was suspended for four years by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority (subsequently renamed the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, or KHRC). He was found to be in possession of three sealed vials of cobra venom, a substance used to kill pain, and suspended for one year for the possession of carbidopa and levodopa, both of which are used to treat Parkinson's disease in humans. The substances were found during a June 22, 2007 search and seizure of items in a barn at the Keeneland training center, in Lexington, occupied by trainer Patrick Biancone.

Biancone also was suspended six months, and then did not seek licensing for an additional six months before resuming his training career.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority later voted unanimously to accept a hearing officer's report upholding the suspensions.

In its March 15, 2013, ruling that the KHRC asked for discretionary review by the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals agreed with Stewart's attorneys—Mike Meuser, Michelle Hurley, and Karen Murphy—that the regulations were vague. The Court of Appeals ruling noted that the drug was then legal for use in the Standardbred industry in Kentucky and it was not expressly prohibited for use in Thoroughbreds at the time of the raid on the Keeneland barn. Stewart treated both Standardbred and Thoroughbred horses.

"We are ultimately in agreement with Dr. Stewart that the commission's permissive use of snake venom under Standardbred horse regulations, coupled with the lack of express forbiddance of snake venom in Thoroughbred racing regulations creates an ambiguity, which does not give a veterinarian of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know that the commission intended to prohibit snake venom in Thoroughbred racing.

"Accordingly, we must agree that the regulation relied upon by the commission to suspend Dr. Stewart's license was impermissibly vague because it does not place a veterinarian to whom it applies on actual notice as to what conduct is prohibited, arguably leading to an arbitrary enforcement of the regulation."

A month after its action suspending Stewart, the racing authority amended its rules and regulations to prohibit the administration of cobra venom in Standardbreds.

A KHRC spokesman said Feb. 14 that the regulatory body had a copy of the Supreme Court's ruling not to review the Stewart decision and had no comment at this time.

Originally published on

About the Author

Ron Mitchell/The Horse

Ron Mitchell is Online Managing Editor for The Blood-Horse magazine. A Lexington native, Mitchell joined The Blood-Horse after serving in editorial capacities with The Thoroughbred Record and Thoroughbred Times, specializing in business and auction aspects of the industry, and was editor-in-chief of the award-winning Horsemen’s Journal. As online managing editor, Mitchell works closely with The Blood-Horse news editor and other departments to make sure the website content is the most thorough and accurate source for all Thoroughbred news, results, videos, and data.

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