Santa Anita Park isn't waiting for a statewide ban to make its stand against "milkshakes." Starting at its upcoming meet that begins Dec. 26, the Arcadia, Calif., track will test every horse in every race for excess bicarbonate in their bloodstreams.
"Nothing is more important for us than maintaining the highest standards of integrity for California racing,'' said Santa Anita president Jack McDaniel in the Dec. 2 announcement. "This new testing program will bolster our commitment to provide a level playing field and fair competition within our gates.''
Bay Meadows also plans to institute such a program when it starts its new meet in February, said Jack Liebau, president of the track's racing association, during the California Horse Racing Board meeting the same day at Hollywood Park.
Santa Anita's announcement coincided with the CHRB's proposal to crack down on bicarbonates. The board is moving forward with a plan to make testing for bicarbonates mandatory at all its tracks for all breeds.
The CHRB also heard proposals on beefing up security, including detention barns to hold horses - possibly all entrants -- under watch for 24 hours before they race and widespread use of surveillance cameras.
"This is something we've worked on for almost a year,'' said commissioner William Bianco, who chairs the board's ad hoc security committee.
In addition to mandatory detention barns, Bianco recommended the board pursue the implantation of microchips in racehorses for identification instead of lip tattoos. In a review of security procedures, many horses were noted leaving and arriving at tracks late at night when no lip readers were available.
"Milkshakes" are mixtures of bicarbonate of soda and liquid, usually Gatorade or another sports drink, which is force-fed to a horse shortly before it competes. The mixture is believed to delay the build up of lactic acid in a horse's muscles, allowing it to run farther before tiring. Because the excess carbon dioxide in a horse's bloodstream quickly dissipates, testing must be done immediately after races.
Capitol Racing at Cal Expo has used detention barns for races picked at random for two years and has tested the first two finishers of all races for bicarbonates for a decade. But its testing has been on a voluntary basis as part of its horsemen's agreement.
In random testing this summer at Del Mar, about 10% of horses came up positive for excess bicarbonate in their blood.
The Oak Tree Racing Association, which operates the fall meeting at Santa Anita, tested 1,773 horses during its recent season. With the well-publicized crackdown, the positive rate fell to less than 1%.
"We tested every horse but one and that was because of tempermental reasons,'' said Sherwood Chillingworth, Oak Tree's executive vice president.
Under its plan, Santa Anita will put any trainer whose horse gets a positive test -- more than 37 millimoles per liter of plasma -- under earned surveillance for 45 days.
Such surveillance may include, but not be limited to, the placing of cameras with recording devices in any location within that barn that Santa Anita deems necessary and appropriate to ensure the integrity of racing.
Additionally, horses entered by that trainer for the first 30 days could be put in a 24-hour detention barn at a cost of $150 a day for security plus other expenses. After a second offense, the trainer would be prohibited from entering any horse for 15 days. A third positive test would earn an expulsion from the Arcadia track and a one-year ban from Santa Anita.
The CHRB will conduct a formal hearing on its statewide milkshake rules at its Jan. 20 meeting in Arcadia following the mandatory 45 days of public review.
"This is one of the most crucial issues facing us,'' said commissioner Richard Shapiro, who also suggested using detention barns for trainers' horses with positive drug tests of any kind. "We want to keep people on their toes.''