Friday, August 09, 2002

Hand surgeon fined, suspended for giving horse Prozac

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hand surgeon Joseph Kutz agreed to pay a record $25,000 fine to the Kentucky Racing Commission and serve another 30-day suspension for giving the antidepressant Prozac to a high-strung horse he owned.

        Kutz, who assisted in performing the United States' first hand transplant three years ago, apologized repeatedly for his actions during an appearance Thursday before commission hearing officer Jim Robke. He blamed the incident on “false information I received.”

        Kutz was given a 30-day suspension and trainer Bill Deaton a 150-day suspension by Turfway Park stewards after the 8-year-old gelding Explodo Red tested positive for Prozac after a Feb. 17 race.

        Kutz said he didn't tell Deaton he added Prozac to a vitamin supplement that was supposed to treat the horse's arthritis. (Deaton has testified that he gave Explodo Red the supplement three times daily for the 10 days preceding the race.) But the stewards ruled that trainers ultimately are responsible for horses in their care.

        Kutz, 74, did not appeal his original suspension, which ran through May 15. But he acknowledged that he attended the Kentucky Derby and the Oaks during his suspension.

        When under suspension, an owner or trainer is not to be on the grounds of any sanctioned race track. Kutz, who did not attend his initial hearing, said he thought he was prohibited only from running horses.

        “What I did was wrong,” he said Thursday. “I put a small trainer at jeopardy. It was not my intention. ... This is the first time we've ever done this and the last time.”

        Even without Kutz's admission that he had violated his suspension, the commission had considered additional sanctions against the surgeon, commission attorney J. Bruce Miller said.

        The hearing was cut short when attorney Charles Middleton said his client would accept the fine and 30-day suspension.

        Robke said he would recommend those sanctions to the commission at its Sept. 24 meeting.

        If the commission accepts Robke's recommendations, Kutz' suspension will begin Sept. 25. The $25,000 is five times the record of $5,000 meted against Latonia Race Course in the early 1980s when it canceled racing Super Bowl Sunday without what the commission thought was a valid reason. Commission executive director Bernie Hettel said in his recollection, the previous biggest fine given an owner was $1,000.

        Speaking at the 25-minute proceeding, Kutz repeated earlier contentions that he gave Explodo Red the Prozac to calm the horse so he wouldn't hurt himself or others. Under guidelines used by racing officials, Prozac is a Class 2 substance, which means it has high potential to affect a horse's performance. Still, Prozac theoretically can be used in the training of horses but cannot be in the horse's system for racing purposes.

        Kutz said he did not know Prozac was a banned substance for racing. He said he had asked veterinary friends what they recommended to settle a horse, and Prozac was among the suggestions.


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