California racing regulators hope they can head off a widely-held suspicion on the backside that some trainers are cheating before that perception becomes the assumption on the front side.
The California Horse Racing Board, at its Dec. 4 meeting, approved formation of a committee of industry and track representatives to explore the potential for establishing race-day detention barns at its tracks or installing camera surveillance of stalls for horses scheduled to race. The board gave the committee 60 days to provide direction to the CHRB.
The committee, which includes commissioners Roger Licht and Bill Bianco, was suggested by Drew Couto, a consultant for the Thoroughbred Owners of California after trainer Vladimir Cerin called on the CHRB to take action before it is too late.
"Suspicion on the backside is eroding confidence," Couto said, adding that the TOC fully supports trainers such as Cerin for coming forward. He said the TOC board has spent a great deal of time discussing the problem the past few months.
Cerin said he circulated a petition calling for increased surveillance on the backstretch signed by 68 Southern California trainers.
"Not a single one of us wants a detention barn because of the problems it can cause caring for our horses," he said. "We don't really want it."
But he said so-called "super trainers" have created the perception among his peers that are two types of trainers -- "those who cheat and those who lose."
Cerin said the situation has caused a severe morale problem for many trainers.
"We need you to prove that those trainers who are winning are really that good," he told the board.
"I question whether anything is going on," commissioner John Harris said, a point Cerin and others who testified also conceded. "But the perception is there."
Harris said he believes CHRB investigators do a good job policing the backstretch and that the state's drug-testing is among the best. But he agreed that something needs to be done and suggested that the use of the state vanning and stabling funds could be a possible source of money to install detection cameras.
Trainers who spoke agreed that the state's drug-testing labs do a fine job of detecting known illegal substances. Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, suggested that selected blood samples be stored for future testing as a deterrent to anyone who may be using something for which there are no current tests.
"We've seen it in professsional sports -- the use of new drugs that aren't yet detectable by test," said Halpern. "Why are we to believe we're so much better?"
CHRB equine medical director Dr. Ron Jensen suggested that regulators may be jumping the gun with the detention barn idea. "There's a lot more to a security barn than calling it a security barn,'' he said. "Horses have to be fed, watered, groomed. A lot of people are coming and going and any one of them could be doing something they shouldn't. It's a big undertaking and represents huge logistical problems."
He said that since 2001, the NTRA has rescreened 1,272 negative blood samples with a "super test" to look for illicit substances that might have been missed. He said 98.3% of those tests returned negative results once again.
Alan Horowitz, general manager of Capitol Racing, which operates a harness meeting at Cal Expo in Sacramento, said his group opened a 24-hour detention barn patrolled around the clock with 40 stalls for horses entered in their top races.
"We did this independent of the board because we think the integrity of racing is very important," Horowitz said.
In other business, the CHRB elected Harris chairman for 2004. Sheryl Granzella was named vice chairman. The board also approved a one-year license renewal for XpressBet, a subsidiary of Magna Entertainment Corp., to conduct advance deposit wagering.