JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- The president of an Orange Park greyhound track said it is not responsible for issues that led to 23 positive post-race drug tests this year and led to the suspension of one trainer's state license.
Monday is the first time that Bestbet president Jamie Shelton spoke publicly about the First Coast News investigation into the positive drug tests.
Shelton, speaking to a meeting of the Rotary Club in downtown Jacksonville, defended the track and called the news reports "sensationalized"
17 dogs have tested positive 23 times this year Benzoylecgonine (BZE) -- a metabolite of cocaine, according to records First Coast News has obtained from the state. Twelve of the dogs were under the care of trainer Charles McClellan while five were under the care of Natasha Nemeth. McClellan's license has been suspended by the state pending a hearing in August.
"Do I accept any accountability or responsibility for the acts that occurred? Absolutely not." Shelton said in response to a Rotary member's question.
Shelton said he could not explain how cocaine got into the greyhounds systems, but stands by what the owner of many of the dogs, Steve Sarras, said. He says the amounts of BZE in their system are considered "trace" amounts and may have come from environmental contamination, not doping of the animals.
Shelton also said that cocaine would not have a positive impact on a dog's performance, pointing out that many of the dogs who tested positive for drugs did not win their races.
Shelton told the audience that the track does not own greyhounds and that the trainers are "independent contractors" who have arrangements with the track to provide dogs for racing.
"We contract with kennel operators that acquire or lease dogs from people who raise greyhounds around the country. They are independent contractors. They are licensed by the state of Florida and they also receive a badge from us so they can come on to our property to race their product at our facility." Shelton explained.
"My oversight of the independent contractors other than me being to ensure that the safety and welfare of the greyhounds while they are in my premises in the kennels and they are being cared for they are being turned out, they are being fed, they are air conditioned kennels, all the things you are asking about, that's my number one concern."
Shelton said dogs from the Sarras Kennels are no longer racing at Bestbet in Orange Park and the trainers have had their badges revoked.
Despite saying that Sarras owned dogs have been banned, Shelton said Sarras is a "very, very reputable person in this industry. "
In a statement sent to First Coast News Monday afternoon, the track clarified “Mr. Steve Sarras made the decision to conclude his relationship with Jacksonville Greyhound Racing after the recent incident as reported by the State of Florida and is no longer associated with organization in any way.”
Shelton has promised to sit down with First Coast News to answer more questions about this investigation this week.