Cobra Venom Case: Trainer's Hearing Scheduled

Following the announcement of the five-year suspension of veterinarian Dr. Rod Stewart for alleged violations of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority's medication regulations, the organization has scheduled a stewards' hearing in the ongoing investigation of trainer Patrick Biancone, who was found to be in possession of cobra venom and two other prohibited substances.

Citing Kentucky racing rules that require confidentiality in ongoing investigations, KHRA officials would not provide a date or details of the hearing. However, it was confirmed that three vials of cobra venom and other medications (carbidopa and levodopa) were found in Biancone's barn during a search June 22 search. Stewart's veterinary truck was searched the same day.

Biancone served a 15-day suspension through Sept. 17 for the finding of two stimulants in a horse he trains.

Biancone's attorney, Frank Becker, declined comment Sept. 17. Stewart's attorney, Karen Murphy, reportedly told the Daily Racing Form the veterinarian intends to appeal his suspension.

While cobra venom is used as a painkiller, levodopa and carbidopa are used to treat tremors exhibited by humans with Parkinson's disease.

No tests are believed to exist to detect cobra venom, levodopa, or carbidopa. Under Kentucky's rules of racing, all three substances are Class A drugs, defined as prohibited substances with high potential to impact racing performance and no therapeutic benefit to horses.

According to Sandy Walsh of the Food and Drug Administration, levodopa helps restore muscle control when it is converted to dopamine in the brain. For Parkinson's disease, doctors often prescribe levodopa mixed with carbidopa, which delays the conversion of levodopa to dopamine until it reaches the brain, often lessening or even preventing levodopa side effects.

Gary Lavin, VMD, former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said he had never heard of the two Parkinson's disease drugs and had no idea why they would be used to treat horses.

Local equine pharmacists, who convened with other local track veterinarians, said the two drugs are believed to play important roles in regulation of human behavior, such as aggression, anxiety, and anger. The drugs could potentially have a calming effect on nervous or agitated horses, they said.

(Originally published at

About the Author

Esther Marr

Esther Marr is a staff writer for The Blood-Horse magazine.

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