A California Horse Racing Board Medication and Track Safety Committee meeting was often contentious at Santa Anita Park March 16, when topics regarding drug use and documentation were discussed.
In what CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker framed as "the starting point; everything today is surrounding the welfare of the horse, so it's all good," trainers in attendance at times indicated they were being targeted by discussions of potential proposals, specifically regarding taking and sharing records of "treatments" administered to horses.
Most of the discussion centered on an item that would "require the trainer of record of the horse that was claimed to provide the new owner a record of all joint injections within the last 30 days."
Trainer Darrell Vienna was first to suggest that it would be simpler for veterinary records, which are confidential between an owner and a veterinarian, to be transmitted from owner to owner instead of involving trainers.
"There's a simpler approach, and that's the transfer of veterinary records," Vienna said. "That's appropriate, rather than engaging a non-client (trainers) to report treatments that may or may not be accurate. I suggest another approach: to place the responsibility on medical professionals rather than the trainer.
"The trainer isn't the client in the relationship and doesn't have the right to disclose information without the permission of the owner."
CHRB member Madeline Auerbach emphasized that the discussion was intended to be focused on concern for the horses running in California, and ultimately doing what is best for them.
"That's my bottom line," Auerbach said. "I don't care how we do it, as long as we do it. I want to make sure that when a horse gets claimed and moved from one barn to the other, that any kind of injections that horse has had ... we can ensure that the new vet at the new barn will be aware of (it), so as not to duplicate and damage the internal workings of the horse, and I don't really know how to get there.
"This is a suggestion of how to get there. That's why we brought it to the community, so the community can weigh in."
"It's not only for the welfare of the horse, but the welfare of the human being that rides the horse, whether that's in the morning or the afternoon," Baedeker said. "That's sometimes overlooked."
California Thoroughbred Trainers executive director Alan Balch said he believes the conversation was "adversarial" and would have preferred for groups like the CTT and Thoroughbred Owners of California to discuss potential action privately.
"Everybody in this room considers the welfare of the horse and the human athletes to be paramount in everything we do," Balch said. "Let's be clear about that. Nobody opposes the welfare of the horse. So the question is, how do we achieve what is perceived to be a goal? Granted, the (CHRB) is a regulatory agency, so when a question is raised, the first response is 'Let's have a regulation.'
"The first response should be to engage the constituencies responsible for the welfare of the horse in the first instance and that is the trainers and the owners. We don't always need a regulation, which raises all kinds of problems—legally and otherwise—to resolve a perceived problem."
Auerbach bristled about Balch's use of "perceived" and asked if he felt the problem was real or perceived.
"In this day and age, if it's perceived to be a problem, it's a problem. So what's the difference?" Balch responded.
Jim Cassidy, a trainer and president of the CTT, called the discussion "almost like a witch hunt" and said the industry at large is at fault. He said surgeries are performed on horses of which trainers aren't aware when they buy them, "and we have to try to keep them together for the clients, so we keep the business going. Yet, you guys issue licenses to trainers that shouldn't even be on the grounds."
"Those are the problems that we have," Cassidy said. "Not somebody doing the wrong thing to the horses."
Fellow trainer Ron Ellis said plainly that regulation along the lines of requiring trainers to disclose treatments in claiming "isn't going to protect the welfare of the horse one damn bit."
"When I claim a horse, I'm incompetent if I don't know that horse has as an issue," Ellis said. "If it was injected and that alleviated the problem, then it alleviated the problem, otherwise that problem is going to resurface. It might be beneficial for me to know, but it's not going to change what I do. It's not going to change whether I do inject a horse or don't inject a horse. It's not going to change one bit what I do to that horse.
"All you're doing is helping the incompetent guys who aren't there to look at their horses and see what's wrong, and I don't think you should promote incompetence in trainers. Everything you guys do to protect the claiming horses and the new people who get the horses—all it does is promote more claiming. The worst thing that can happen to a horse is to change barns every time they run."
CHRB equine medical director Rick Arthur stressed that any regulation of treatment records for claiming horses would be to discourage bad actors, not those playing by the rules.
"Out of the 500 trainers, you have people who are very competent, very careful, and very considerate of the horses," Arthur said. "On the other end of the extreme, you have people who are just the opposite. The thing you have to recognize is that we don't just regulate the top trainers. We regulate everybody.
"What we have to do is protect the horses as much as we can. That may mean that some trainers, it may inconvenience them to do something that they don't think is necessary. But if it prevents another trainer from putting a horse at risk, or a jockey at risk, it's a legitimate thing for us to do.
"You don't have DUI stops because everyone in this room is a drunk. You have DUI stops because there's somebody out there on the road that's a danger to everybody else. Not everybody is going to be perfect like you, Ron."
Ellis also brought up the competitiveness of the claiming game and how the potential requirement to disclose treatment methods and use would go against that competitive nature. He also brought up the cost of hiring extra staff to keep the records.
"I'll never ask another trainer, 'What did you do with this horse?' because I'm not going to get the truth," Ellis said. "They're not going to tell me the truth. This is a competitive game and claiming is the most blatant thing to show the talent of a trainer. If a guy loses a horse and it runs fourth the day he gets it, and a guy wins on the jump, it's an embarrassment for the previous guy and the new guy gets more business because of that.
"We don't want to divulge what we've been doing to get that horse to run better. You can't legislate morality. If you think I'm going to tell the truth, I'm just telling you, I'm not. If there's not some proof to back up what I did to that horse ... every trainer here is going to say, 'I didn't do a thing.' That's why it should go through the vets."
Later, another discussion topic about potential regulation that would require "trainers to maintain full and accurate records of all treatments given to a horse, including veterinary procedures performed and all medications administered" inspired similar reactions from trainers in attendance. They said it would be an undue burden on them when records from veterinarians would be more reliable.
"I need it clear in my mind why the CHRB can't take the confidential records that the veterinarians turn in—which is supposed to be every shot, every injection, everything that's done to a horse—and why the onus is being put on the trainers," Ellis said. "They don't want the extra burden. That's all.
"It also appears, (the way the item is written), that there's a hidden agenda. Trainers are suspicious—I'll say that, because I'm one of them—that there's a hidden agenda in there to prosecute or make trainers more responsible for the decisions that are made."
Eventually, the parties involved agreed to form a "task force" that will discuss the issues outside of a CHRB meeting.
In a discussion about expanded out-of-competition testing, including a ban on anabolic steroids, Vienna questioned Arthur about verbiage. Arthur refused to answer Vienna's questions multiple times, citing a lawsuit Vienna, who is also a lawyer, filed on behalf of Quarter Horse trainer Gustavo De La Torre.
On March 10 the Los Angeles Superior Court determined house rules at Los Alamitos Race Course banning the use of clenbuterol and albuterol violated state laws and that the CHRB should not have allowed the rules to be put in place.
Vienna asked whether clenbuterol would be considered "not subject to regulatory thresholds," and also asked for clarification on "blood, urine, hair, or other biological official test samples," which Arthur declined to answer.
"I've seen how you like to get transcripts and twist them around, so I'm not going to play your game," Arthur said.
"You have offered a (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium) proposal, which includes language we're supposed to discuss, and your refusal to discuss the language makes it impossible for us to address the issues," Vienna responded.
"Your characterization of my questions has been inappropriate," Vienna said to Arthur minutes later.