Taking a get-tough stance, the California Horse Racing Board moved forward with its sweeping overhaul of the state’s equine drug policies including the first ban of so-called “designer” anabolic steroids.
At its monthly meeting Jan. 23, the board voted 7-0 to open a 45-day public review of the changes, which include tougher and consistent penalties for more than 800 classified drugs. In addition, the changes establish stiff penalties for high levels of total carbon dioxide (TCO2), adding extra deterrents for readings over 39 millimoles as well as the existing 37-millimole limit. TCO2 is a byproduct of a "milkshake," which is administered to reduce fatigue.
“What we’re trying to do is make the risk not worth the reward,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, CHRB equine medical director. “Our real goal is assuring we have the cleanest racing in the country. I have no doubt we already do.”
Trainers with second offenses for Category B drugs can be forced to “dismantle their stables” during a minimum 60-day suspension. That includes turning their horses over to other non-affiliated trainers, giving up their stall space, and moving off the racetrack premises. Such a penalty puts real teeth into drug regulations, officials said.
“Suspensions get to be such a farce,” CHRB commissioner John Harris said. “The Eclipse-award winning trainer (Todd Pletcher) is out on suspension.”
Category A violations call for a minimum one-year suspension and $10,000 fine. Repeat offenses increase the fine to $50,000 and lengthy suspension. Owners, veterinarians, and assistant trainers also face new penalties, starting with 30-day suspensions and fines for a minor first offense.
“They’re fair, they’re tough, and will go a long way to allow us to regulate medications a lot more effectively,” Arthur said of the new rules.
The changes standardize punishment and follow the guidelines set forth by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a national body that advocates uniform rule enforcement. When dispensing punishment, hearing officers can also take in to consideration mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
“Some people may feel these rules are draconian, but this also provides flexibility,” CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro said.
Punishment for drug violations had varied greatly from track to track in California, dependent on the discretion of the stewards. “This puts standards in place,” Arthur said. “We’ll look at amount of drug and apply consistent penalty. We’ve had different standards North and South and different penalties for harness and Quarter Horse.”
Ron Charles, who oversees Magna Entertainment Corp.’s two California tracks, applauded the change. “We see so much disparity between the North and the South,” he said. “In the North, the stewards give suspensions and no fines. In the South, there are heavy fines but no suspensions. This is a step toward leveling the playing field. If California can take the lead, it would set a terrific trend.”
California’s new policy aims to stay a step ahead of designer steroids, Arthur said. Under the proposal, positive tests for all but four anabolic steroids would be treated as Class 3 drugs with Category B penalties. That combination requires purse redistribution and a 30-day minimum suspension.
Trainers would receive warnings for first offenses for high levels on the most-used anabolic steroids--Equipoise (known generically as boldenone), Winstrol (stanozolol), Durabolin (nandrolone), and testosterone. Those three brand names are FDA-approved for use in horses, Arthur noted.
“Historically, they’ve been allowed in horse racing for decades,” Arthur said. “This accomplishes what we need to do. It’s a first step in regulating anabolic steroids.”
Eventually, those four drugs will come under more severe penalties once other states adopt steroid policies in line with national guidelines, Arthur said. Only Iowa had previously placed steroid restrictions on racehorses.
After public comment, the policies will come back before the board for final approval at either its March 22 or April 19 meetings.
New guidelines for the bronchodilator clenbuterol went back to the board’s medication committee for further review. That includes a new regulation requiring blood instead of urine testing for the drug, and a 72-hour withdrawal period instead a 28-day withdrawal that had been proposed. That followed testimony from several veterinarians about the drug’s therapeutic benefits.