Bennie L. ‘Chip’ Woolley Jr.
Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bennie L. “Chip” Woolley Jr. has received a stay of a 180-day suspension and $2,500 fine handed him last month by stewards at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Ariz., for what the official ruling said was “possession of an illegal needle and syringe upon the premises of the track enclosure.”
The order to stay the suspension, signed Feb. 18 by Rudy Casillas, director of the racing division of the Arizona Department of Gaming, came after Woolley appealed the suspension on the grounds that there were “errors of law and misconduct by the stewards…that deprived (Woolley) of due process”; “the penalty imposed was excessive”; and that the “findings of fact or decision by the stewards is not justified by the evidence or is contrary to law.”
Ivy L. Kushner, attorney for Woolley, wrote in the appeal that Woolley has had no medication violations for at least five years and that the “event that transpired on Feb. 8, 2022, was an isolated instance of poor judgment, for which there is no possibility of repetition or a risk to the safety, welfare, economy, health, peace and people of the state of Arizona if a stay were to be granted.”
Kushner wrote that Turf Paradise general manager Vincent Francia testified in support of Woolley at the Feb. 15 stewards hearing and “alluded to mitigating factors which included the lack of sufficient veterinarians on the backside” and “urged the stewards to exercise restraint in the disposition of the matter.” Kushner added that Arizona Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Leroy Gessman echoed Francia’s comments, “voicing the critical challenges that the lack of adequate veterinarian care has caused trainers at Turf Paradise.”
On the morning of Feb. 8, according to the appeal, while performing pre-race inspections, veterinarian Dr. Susan Gale observed Woolley and groom Alberto Castillo Perez in the stall with the 5-year-old mare Kissable U. The groom was seen holding a syringe containing a clear liquid with a capped needle attached, the appeal states. Gale confiscated the syringe and asked Woolley its contents, which he said was magnesium. A subsequent barn search by an investigator did not produce any contraband.
Gale notified stewards, who subsequently scratched Kissable U and three other horses Woolley had entered to run that day. According to the appeal, Gale then had her assistant take Kissable U and other horses entered to race that day to the test barn to have samples taken. The appeal states that Woolley or a representative should have been present when the samples were taken and also should have witnessed the packaging of the confiscated syringe, which apparently was also sent off for testing.
Kushner wrote in the appeal that Woolley “did not administer a substance at all to the horse, did not possess a foreign substance and did not run a horse in a race that tested positive.” Magnesium is not a prohibited substance, Kushner had said.
In addition, Kushner wrote, the stewards ruling did not list the specific rule prohibiting possession of a syringe but did list a rule related to human drug testing, which the attorney said was “totally irrelevant to the pending proceeding.”
A date, time and place of the hearing appealing for the sanctions to be rejected or modified have not been set.
Woolley, best known as trainer of Mine That Bird, the 50-1 longshot who won the 2009 Kentucky Derby, has run six horses since the stay was granted, registering one win and one second-place finish.