The California Horse Racing Board, under fire for its drug enforcement policies, would dramatically change penalties for many violations and repeat offenses under recommendations passed on to the full commission by its medication committee Jan. 9.
About 50 people, including veterinarians, trainers and owners, attended the four-hour meeting at Santa Anita. The committee recommended approval of penalty guidelines developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a national body advocating uniform rule enforcement, as well as a revision of classifications of some 800 drugs advanced by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. The CHRB committee, on the advice of its equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur, made some adjustments to both the drug classifications and penalty guidelines.
In addition, the committee is suggesting a 28-day withdrawal period before a horse treated with the bronchodilator clenbuterol will be allowed to run, and took the first steps toward prohibiting the use of anabolic steroids in California. It is also urging a rule amendment that would prohibit veterinarians from falsifying reports.
Richard Shapiro, the CHRB commission chairman and a member of the medication committee, said the board “wants a fair and equitable system for all participants.” The rules extend penalties beyond the trainers to include owners and veterinarians, where appropriate.
In the past two years, the CHRB has been the subject of newspaper and magazine articles criticizing it for lax drug policy enforcement. The commissioners on the committee – Shapiro, John Harris and chairman Bill Bianco – acknowledged the damage that has been done to racing’s credibility in the state and said the changes are designed to correct the perception. The recommendations drew a favorable response from most of those in attendance, including representatives of the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California.
“We’re speaking for the owners and we want to clean up horseracing, too,” said Marsha Naify, vice chairman of the TOC Board, in applauding the committee’s action.
The committee plans to meet again Jan. 23 to hammer out wording of the new rules, executive director Ingrid Fermin said. The full board will have its first chance to review the far-reaching changes that afternoon. Any action taken then would be subject to a 45-day public review period before the board -- at the earliest -- could finalize and enact the revisions.
The new rules give the hearing officer – be it the board of stewards, the CHRB or an administrative law judge – the ability to weigh significant mitigation and aggravating factors in assigning responsibility and penalties.
Penalty severity for trainers was a main topic. Trainer Jenine Sahadi, for example, argued that in the case of huge training operations, neither a hefty fine, as much as $50,000 for a third Category A offense under the RMTC guidelines, nor a lengthy suspension serves as much of a deterrent.
“Do you really think $50,000 is going to mean anything to some of these trainers?” she asked.
Suspensions, others noted, have little effect on the bigger barns because an assistant simply takes over training without any real interruption. However, a third Category A offense with aggravating factors could result in a permanent license revocation under the guidelines.
A more effective deterrent, it was suggested by Naify, would be to require owners to disperse horses from a suspended barn.
“All we’re saying at the TOC is to put some teeth into it,” she said.
Ed Halpern, executive director of the CTT, said suspension “is a thorny issue” but disagreed with penalizing owners for a trainer’s transgression. “Do you really want an owner with 70 horses to have to disperse because of a 10-day suspension?” he wondered.
Ron Charles, president of California racing for Magna Entertainment Corp., said fines are usually ineffective penalties. “Suspension and confinement barns are what get the attention of trainers,” he said.