In an unusual move, the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board has issued a statement defending the credibility of the state's drug-testing mechanism and praising the efforts of Lava Man in Sunday's Pacific Classic (gr. I).
As part of the statement, CHRB chairman Richard B. Shapiro revealed that all eight Pacific Classic starters tested below 35 millimoles for total carbon dioxide (TCO2), or bicarbonate levels, which was "well within the legal limit." In addition, Shapiro said the TCO2 level for Lava Man was the lowest of the eight.
Trained by Doug O'Neill, Lava Man became the first horse to win the Hollywood Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap, and Pacific Classic in the same year.
Following the race, trainer Murray Johnson, whose Perfect Drift finished fourth in the Classic, questioned Lava Man's TCO2 level and whether the Del Mar track maintenance department had prepped the racing surface to favor the winner.
Noting that his emotional criticisms were partially the result of his father having suffered a heart attack on the Friday before the Classic, Johnson later retracted his statement and apologized to O'Neill, as did Perfect Drift's owner Dr. William Reed.
"Lava Man left no doubt he is a true champion when he won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sunday and became the first horse ever to win the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic in the same year," Shapiro said in his statement. "Doug O'Neill has done a marvelous job training this horse, and no one should take anything away from these achievements.
"Unfortunately, the trainer of one of the other horses in the Pacific Classic made some statements after the race that were harmful to the connections of Lava Man, including Doug O'Neill, and critical of the track condition," Shapiro said. "While I appreciate and understand that the statements have since been retracted, and were partly a result of emotions related to the illness of his father, I would like to shed some light on the situation.
"Steve Wood, the track foreman at Del Mar, and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club did nothing out of the ordinary in preparing the racing surface for the Pacific Classic program," the statement continued. They have worked diligently and uniformly throughout the meet to provide the safest and most consistent track possible. Del Mar hosted more than 32,000 people to watch this race and, as has become customary, did an excellent job in all respects. It is time that everyone recognize this is an exceptional horse that has been trained and managed superbly. The horse and trainer deserve our utmost respect for their great success."
"With the emotions of the time," Johnson said, "I was looking to blame things and people that weren't to blame. I want people to know that's not what we think and feel," Johnson said in a statement Monday.
Dr. William Reed, owner and breeder of Perfect Drift, issued a statement saying, "It's hard to say anything else but I was embarrassed and my family was embarrassed by the comments. Those are not our sentiments at all and I think Lava Man is a great horse. We got beat and that's part of racing."