TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A horse trainer who now works at Tampa Bay Downs is appealing a two-year suspension that was levied on him after a thoroughbred he was training at Monmouth Park in New Jersey died from an overdose from a drug that’s prohibited at race tracks.
Cody Axmaker, now finishing up the season at Tampa Bay Downs, was granted a stay on a two-year suspension and $5,000 fine handed down by the New Jersey Racing Commission, according to a spokesman for that state’s attorney general’s office.
Horses with breathing issues like equine asthma and heaves are often treated with the prescription drug Clenbuterol, but it also has a side effect that can help horses grow muscle to potentially run faster.
Emily Weaver, a Land O’ Lakes based equine veterinarian, said the drug has been abused as a performance enhancer in the racing industry.
“Besides the bronchial dilation effects which is what it’s labeled for it also has some anabolic effects,” Weaver said. “So it will actually help build muscle mass. It’s sad because using it that way puts racing results ahead of the horse’s safety.”
According to the ruling obtained from the New Jersey Racing Commission, the horse Wishful “died [last May] of symptoms consistent with overdose of the drug Clenbuterol.”
Axmaker chose not to comment when contacted by 8 on Your Side, but has insisted the drug was given to Wishful by mistake. The ruling referenced that claim, stating “Axmaker instructed” an employee to administer Aloe Vera from a jug that “may have been” mislabeled.
Investigators determined the container held Clenbuterol, not Aloe Vera, according to the ruling.
The label did not seem to matter as much as the fact that Clenbuterol was in the stable. According to the racing commission ruling, “the possession of a jug of the prohibited substance” violated state law.
Axmaker reflected on the incident in a Facebook post.
“Sometimes accidents happens and unfortunately a life was lost because of it,” Axmaker wrote. “Anyone that knows me knows my horses are like my family to me and the last thing I want to do is hurt them.”
A Tampa Bay Downs spokesperson would not elaborate of Axmaker’s presence at the track but said if the 2- year suspension is upheld in New Jersey. it would also apply in Florida.
The suspension was supposed to start Saturday, which is the last day of the season at Tampa Bay Downs, but the appeal delayed the suspension and the payment of the $5,000 fine. Axmaker has said the fine could put him out of business.
Five other trainers were suspended last fall for using Clenbuterol in an unrelated case at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
Weaver said while mistakes are possible, there is a reason the drug is banned at race tracks.
“Basically, it’s doping a horse,” she said. “It’s a performance enhancer. So, you’re putting the horse’s life at risk in order to win.”