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P.E.I. harness racing driver suspended indefinitely over results of 4 drug tests

Marc Campbell holds the Gold Cup and Saucer after his 2015 victory. (CBC - image credit)
Marc Campbell holds the Gold Cup and Saucer after his 2015 victory. (CBC - image credit)

An award-winning P.E.I. harness racing driver is facing an indefinite suspension from competition.

This comes after horses trained by Marc Campbell tested positive for drug violations four times in the past year, according to the Atlantic Harness Racing Commission. 

His supporters say the suspension is unfair, though.

"He went from a hero to zero here in a matter of a week, and he's never had a chance to explain his side of the story, or literally have due process in this," said Jim Whelan, president of the Ontario Harness Horse Association.

Whelan said he wants to see changes to the drug testing rules and penalties.

"You could destroy his whole career and his family and it'll be a tainted career going forward if this isn't properly sorted out real quick." 

Campbell has a long history of training and racing horses, and is a past winner of P.E.I.'s famed Gold Cup and Saucer. He declined a CBC News request for an interview.

The drug could have end up in the horse through contamination, says Jim Whelan.
The drug could have end up in the horse through contamination, says Jim Whelan.

Marc Campbell 'went from a hero to zero here in a matter of a week, and he's never had a chance to explain his side of the story,' says Jim Whelan of the Ontario Harness Horse Association. (Zoom)

Three of the drug violations were registered in the last month, and Whelan said three of the four found too high a level of Lasix, a medication meant to stop bleeding. He also said three of those violations involved the same horse.

The drug is administered by a veterinarian appointed by the racing commission, a few hours before a race.

Drug 'does enhance their performance'

Dr. Ben Stoughton, a large-animal internal medicine clinician at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, said the testing process is highly regulated, for good reason.

"It does enhance their performance," he said. "So that's why there's this tight balance of giving the drug to protect the horse, but also not wanting to have too high a level, because it can enhance their performance."

Administering drugs to horses takes a lot of attention to detail, and knowing what medications you're handling, says Dr. Ben Stoughten.
Administering drugs to horses takes a lot of attention to detail, and knowing what medications you're handling, says Dr. Ben Stoughten.

Administering drugs to horses takes a lot of attention to detail, and knowledge of what medications you're handling, says Dr. Ben Stoughton of the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Whelan said Campbell shouldn't be held responsible since he didn't administer the drug.

"When there's a mistake made — whether it's science, the horse not metabolizing stuff properly, whether it's a mistake made when the medication is administered to the horse — the trainer's held responsible, in this case when it wasn't part of his responsibility," he said.

"There was nothing he could've prevented."

Official says positive tests not uncommon

Campbell has been temporarily suspended for other drug violations in the past decade. But Whelan said that's not uncommon.

"If you look at the history of the industry, the majority of the people that race a lot of horses and do it full-time, they have positive tests for different things," he said. "They're not considered people that are trying to cheat the system or anything [to] gain an advantage."

Stoughton said he was not surprised the violation is being disputed.

"There are people on both sides of the argument in terms of the use of drugs at all," he said. "It's quite a controversial topic."

CBC News reached out to the Atlantic Harness Racing Commission to find out more about the suspension and what steps will be taken.

The commission said it couldn't comment on the matter as proceedings are ongoing.