The perception of wrongdoing in racing is strong enough that regulators and marketers must not dismiss it, officials said Dec. 11 during a panel discussion titled "The Changing Environment of Regulation" at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing.
California Horse Racing Board chairman Roger Licht, who moderated the session, acknowledged there are widespread rumors of medication abuses but very little evidence. He suggested turning negatives into positives through proactive measures.
"Perception can be turned from something that is turning people off to something that can bring people back to the track," Licht said. "It's something in which I believe we as regulators have failed."
As for proof of rampant rule-breaking on the part of trainers, Licht said: "All of our testing shows that the opposite is true. The only evidence we have are statistical aberrations."
Licht said California is looking to improve backstretch surveillance and the presence of security personnel to combat the problem. Dr. Rick Arthur of the Oak Tree Racing Association said the Golden State has been plagued lately by trainers accusing trainers of cheating.
During a question-and-answer portion of the presentation, one trainer asked about potential liability on the part of veterinarians that administer medication or employ various therapies, some of which may be prohibited practices. Officials said the issue has come up for discussion, but no steps have been taken to penalize vets.
"In California, we've never prosecuted a veterinarian for an illegal practice because we've never found one involved," Licht said. "We may develop rules to dissuade owners from being involved with people who have been involved with illegal practices."
Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said the panel is looking into penalities as part of its model national policy on medication and drug testing. He said a subcommittee is looking into whether its practical to penalize vets.
"How do you directly link a vet to a positive test?" Waterman said. "It's very difficult to do without direct evidence he was involved."
John Walzak of the Ontario Harness Horsemen's Association suggested racing publicize the good and bad. He said past performances should go so far as to note which horses have been tested, and show they didn't get a positive.
On the topic of medication, Waterman listed the four areas of research that have been authorized by the consortium this year. The panel will spend $500,000 of its $800,000 budget on the projects, which include procaine penicillin thresholds and withdrawal times, the difference between morphine administration and detection of morphine through poppy seeds, developing a confirmatory test for the blood-doing agent erythropoietin, and clenbuterol thresholds and withdrawal times.
The consortium hopes to have a $1-million budget for each of the next two years, and eventually hopes to raise $2 million to $3 million a year through a funding mechanism that is yet to be determined.