Making its annual appearance in Silicon Valley on Thursday, the California Horse Racing Board directed its staff to take a major technological stride in the use of microchips for identification of race horses.
During their meeting in Pleasanton, the site of the Alameda County Fair, commissioners told Dr. Ron Jensen, the CHRB's equine medical director, to develop an outline for a pilot program, which would make California one of the first racing jurisdictions in the United States to adopt microchip technology. Microchip identification has been in use in the United Kingdom for five years.
After hearing a presentation on the National Animal Identification System from Dan Fick, executive director of the Jockey Club, Commissioner Richard Shapiro said, "I think this is a great program and we should embark on it."
The CHRB has been discussing the idea of microchip implanting of horses since February. The discussion took on urgency after it came to light in April that Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) favorite Sweet Catomine was removed from the track's backstretch in the week prior to the race for unreported medical treatment by a driver telling gate security that the champion filly was a stable pony.
Chairman John Harris agreed the time is right.
"It's going to happen, so we might as well get started now," he said.
"It's very doable, we just need to come up with a way to do it," Jensen said. He suggested a small pilot program to start, but Harris and Shapiro indicated they might prefer something bigger. Jensen surprised board members when he told them he is required to submit an identification plan to the state's Department of Food and Agriculture by July 24.
Fick, who is chairman of the American Horse Council's Equine Species Working Group, told the board that once the microchips are obtained, it would be possible to implant an entire backstretch population – 1,500 to 2,000 horses – in as little as two weeks.
The Jockey Club, Fick said, would become the "data base of record" for the 15-digit identification numbers through its subsidiary, In Compass Solutions, but hasn't determined whether it should also be responsible for allocation of the numbers and issuance of microchips. He also noted that microchips would not replace the traditional lip tattoo.
The USDA wants a national identification system with 48-hour tracking ability – which would be helpful in the fight against infectious disease – in place by 2009, Fick said.
"Inserting the chips is easy," he said. "The hard part is tracking all of the movements of livestock."
There are 16 countries that use a microchip identification system for racehorses, Fick said. In addition, Louisiana has implanted some 200,000 horses of all breeds and the program is also in use in Puerto Rico. Pilot programs exist in Florida and Colorado and Kentucky is considering one.
"It seems like something that has worked pretty well in other countries," Harris said. "I think the horse industry would endorse it."
Fick said the procedure, which takes about three to five minutes, would cost $40 to $50 per horse. Scanners cost about $200 to $400, he said.
He suggested the use of bio-thermal chips, which besides identification and tracking, offer automatic reading of a horse's body temperature. Ideally, once the program is established, horses would be implanted within the first two days of life, Fick said.
In other action, the board approved a request from account wagering company XpressBet to move its totalizator hub from AutoTote in Northern California to AmTote in Oregon. XpressBet, which handles advance deposit wagering in California for Bay Meadows, the California Authority of Racing Fairs, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, would join rivals TVG and Youbet at the Oregon hub.
In an effort to reduce the number of claimed horses leaving the state, the board approved a rule amendment that will require claimed horses to wait until 60 days after the close of the meeting to be eligible to run in another state's jurisdiction. Under this rule, the summer fair circuit will be considered a single meet.
For the purpose of total carbon dioxide (milkshake) testing, owners or trainers may request, at their expense, that duplicate blood samples be tested from their horse under a rule passed by the board. The request must be made prior to the official sample being taken. The rule was modified after state legislation was passed exempting milkshake testing from split samples that are required for other drug tests.
The board also approved a change in rules for multi-race wagers of more than three legs. Under the modification, in the event a race is changed from turf to dirt or dirt to turf after the close of wagering, such a race shall be considered a win. The amendment also allows a track to post will-pay amounts following the next-to-last race in the sequence.