By: Jeremy Balan

Nearly a month after a contentious California Horse Racing Board meeting delayed a proposal on out-of-competition testing changes, which would have aligned California with several major racing states and with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium’s National Uniform Medication Program, the regulatory agency appeared to take a step forward July 20.

In a meeting of the CHRB’s Medication, Safety, and Welfare Committee Friday at Del Mar, the industry stakeholders who voiced concerns with the out-of-competition proposal during the board’s June 21 meeting were satisfied with the changes detailed by CHRB general counsel Robert Brodnik.

The Thoroughbred Owners of California’s main issue with the verbiage of the proposed out-of-competition changes was the potential liability owners may have if a horse tested positive while outside of a CHRB enclosure (a racetrack or training facility). Brodnik said the new language in the proposed regulation would penalize “the trainer, owner, foreman, groom, and/or any other person shown, by a preponderance of the evidence, to have been responsible for the care, custody, and control of the horse.” The penalty would be a fine or the suspension of the party’s license.

The California Thoroughbred Trainers executive director Alan Balch brought up several concerns about the proposed out-of-competition testing measures during the June meeting, but he was most concerned Friday with the legality of hair testing and the potential for trainers to get sanctioned for legal, therapeutic treatments.

By the end of the nearly four-hour meeting, however, Balch appeared to be satisfied with explanations from University of California-Davis professor Scott Stanley—who oversees lab testing in California and focuses on analytical chemistry, mass spectrometry, and equine pharmacology at the university—and CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur that therapeutic medications are not the target of out-of-competition testing.

“To hopefully help clarify … what our test identifies and what we’re actually pursuing—the test can see corticosteroids and other compounds that are therapeutic and appropriate,” Stanley said. “What is being pursued are prohibited substances, things that are supposed to be restricted use during training—steroids, clenbuterol.”

“This is very important to relate to our constituents,” Balch said. “There has been some hair on fire about therapeutic medication out of competition and needlessly so, so this was a very important conversation, and we appreciate it.”

urrently, there is out-of-competition testing in California, but only within “CHRB enclosures,” and there is essentially no penalty for a positive test. The out-of-competition test only alerts trainers of substances prohibited on race day, and horsemen can chose to “roll the dice” with hopes the horse won’t trigger a positive on race day. Arthur estimated 1,500-1,600 out-of-competition tests were conducted in 2017. The proposal on the table would add penalties for out-of-competition testing, allow regulators to conduct testing outside of CHRB facilities, and move California in line with RMTC standards.

Committee chair Madeline Auerbach directed Brodnik to work with Dr. Donald Smith, vice president of the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians, to craft new language for the proposal based on the discussions Friday. It will then be sent out for a 45-day public comment period, and Brodnik said the proposal could be up for approval from the CHRB at its Sept. 27 meeting at Santa Anita Park.

“When we try to establish these rules and guidelines, we’re trying to make sure that we are on a level playing field, and that’s what this is all about,” Auerbach said. “Whether you’re a vet, a trainer, or an owner, I want the best of my horse to run against the best of your horse. And I don’t want anybody to have any kind of edge. … Some of us are better managing our horses than others, and that’s what this game is about—not about somebody finding an edge with something that is not appropriate.”

Earlier in the meeting, Smith cautioned the committee about the “costs” of expanding out-of-competition testing.

“I’m sure you guys are well aware there are costs involved in out-of-competition testing,” he said. “You’ve assessed the obvious costs, but there are other costs we should keep in mind. There’s the potential loss of owners—people are already worried about that, and hopefully this language clarification will help that, but I think we have to keep that in mind.

“There’s potential loss of horses. If these horses are put on the vet’s list for six months, because of anabolic steroids, then that takes them effectively out of the population, and that’s a big issue right now.

“There’s going to be a cost and a loss of integrity. We’re going to have positive tests. It’s inevitable. And we’ve got horses under supervision of non-licensees—people who are not very sophisticated and, certainly, people who are not aware of the rules of racing. I think you have to keep that in mind, too.

“The blogs, the press that covers racing, are only too eager to touch upon positive tests, calling the integrity of racing into question, and that’s important.

“What I’m mostly concerned about is the cost of veterinary care of the horses, and I think that there’s a couple of aspects to that. One is the requirement the veterinarians in the field, who are not licensed by the (CHRB), who really aren’t that concerned with the (CHRB)—they’re required to report any administration of any of these (treatments). And I think that’s unreasonable for the (CHRB) to require that reporting from veterinarians.”

Before the discussion about out-of-competition testing, the committee addressed a proposal that seeks to require the transfer of veterinary records to new connections when a horse is claimed. Multiple vets and others brought up potential issues, which were addressed.

TOC director of racing Elizabeth Morey expressed concern about confidentiality when the records are transferred and supported the transfer of records, but only for joint injections.

“We would support (a) more limited (measure), with joint injections being the only mandatory portion. … Our one request is that this rule would include a condition that the new owner or trainer keep all of this information confidential,” Morey said. “That is a major concern.”

Dr. Robert O’Neil, The Stronach Group’s equine health and safety director, was plainly frustrated with the process and called for immediate action. The Stronach Group has a house rule at Gulfstream Park that requires the transfer of joint-injection records for claimed horses.

“If you want to keep it really simple, stick with the injections. … I encourage you to move forward on this. It’s been long enough. … The Stronach Group supports this 1 million percent,” O’Neil said.