Use of alkalizing agents -- so-called "milkshakes" -- on horses would be illegal under a new regulation proposed Sept. 15 to the California Horse Racing Board.
Dr. Ron Jensen, the CHRB's director of equine medicine, told the board that the agency's random surveying this spring of horses racing at Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows detected the presence of the practice. Del Mar's own testing found the level of total carbon dioxide that exceeds maximum levels was present in 10% of the horses it checked. Testing is continuing at the current Fairplex fair meeting in Pomona, he said.
"The results indicate some horses have been administered alkalizing substances, or milkshakes, in excessive amounts. At this point, the board does not have a rule that expressly addresses alkalizing substances. We examined rules that are in place in other racing jurisdictions, primarily for standardbreds, and drafted this proposed rule to allow the CHRB to regulate milkshaking."
The rule, which classifies the use of substances such as bicarbonate of soda as a Class 3 violation, was approved for a 45-day public comment period. Enactment of the measure could be considered at the board's Dec. 2 meeting. It would carry a penalty of purse forfeiture. There should be more stringent actions to be determined against trainers with additional positives, racing commissioners and those testifying suggested.
"A second offense by the same trainer should result in a greater penalty. After all, bicarbonate (the typical alkalizing substance) is administered with the intent of changing the playing field, so the penalty should be quite severe," commissioner Jerry Moss said. "It can't happen by accident."
The regulation also drew the unqualified support of everyone who spoke before the board.
"I think it's important for the racing board to adopt this as soon as possible" said Craig Fravel, vice president at Del Mar. "I would think we would consider putting the horse in jail (restricted from racing) for a period of time. This is the kind of thing that will go away ... if (trainers) know there are going to be immediate consequences."
Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Association, said that all horses would be tested for milkshaking during the first week of the upcoming meeting at Santa Anita. After that, there would be checks consisting of a couple of races selected randomly each day.
Drew Couto, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, congratulated the board on taking swift action and said that his organization would be willing to provide two testing machines for analyzing results, at an estimated cost of $40,000 apiece, in each half of the state.
"That should not be a factor in going forward with this," he said.
The action also drew the backing of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, whose assistant director Charles Dougherty told the board, "We feel strongly that we need to get rid of the stigma that some individuals are getting an unfair advantage."
In milkshaking, a tube filled with baking soda solution is inserted into a horse's nose, directing it into the animal's stomach. The presence of excess carbon dioxide in the horse's system is supposed to neutralize lactic acid, which is produced by intense exercise and is considered an important factor in causing fatigue.
Because there is no rule against baking soda, officials can do little more than warn an offender unless caught in the act. California, Jensen said, would be a leader in outlawing the practice in the Thoroughbred industry. It has been perceived primarily as a problem in harness racing.
The rule establishes a maxiumum total carbon dioxide (TCO2) level of 39 millimoles per liter of serum or plasma in horses competing on furosemide and 37 millimoles in horses that are not.
Because of the prevalence of milkshakes, Alan Horowitz, general manager of Capitol Racing, which conducts harness racing at Cal Expo in Sacramento, told the board his horsemen supported a program of voluntary testing for TCO2 last year. Horses are post-race tested in a couple of randomly selected heats each night. "If we find a high reading, we recalibrate the machine and immediately take a second reading."
Jensen noted that one drawback to testing for TCO2 concentrations is that it is not stable, making confirmation of positive tests through split samples problematic. "It must be analyzed within four to five days of it being administered. We're doing (split samples) within 72 hours."
In other moves, the board -- for a second time -- delayed final action on approving Southern California racing dates for 2005 until its Oct. 14 meeting in Arcadia. It voted down, by 4-3, one proposal from Santa Anita that would have moved its winter meet start from its traditional Dec. 26 opening until Dec. 29 because of concerns about how that would effect other meetings. It would have caused a constriction of stakes dates for Hollywood Park's spring meeting, Hollywood president Rick Baedeker complained, and pushed the conclusion of its fall meeting to Christmas Eve. In addition, Del Mar's traditional closing day after Labor Day would move back a week and Oak Tree's major Breeders' Cup prep races, now run on the first weekend in October, would have been pushed a week closer to to the Breeders' Cup.
The board's date committee will hold a special meeting, tentatively scheduled Oct. 5 to try to produce a dates recommendation for 2005 that each of the associations can accept.
The board has already allocated dates for 2005 in Northern California, including the fair circuit.