Trainer Jeff Mullins said Friday that Puppeteer, found to have an excessive level of bicarbonate in his bloodstream following his second-place finish in the Jan. 22 San Marcos Handicap (gr. IIT), was subject to an accidental contamination of alkalizing agents.
Mullins said he thinks the finding was the result of Puppeteer's regular "feed program."
"It's not like it's morphine," he said. "It's a feed program. It's something I've been feeding my horses for 25 years. We're not trying to beat the system here."
Dr. Rick Arthur, a member of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and chairman of the Total Carbon Dioxide Testing Review Committee in California, rejects the idea of accidental contamination.
For a minimum of 30 days, Mullins' horses must spend 24 hours in a detention barn prior to running as a result of the findings. It is part of Santa Anita's policy to rid racing of so-called "milkshakes," the administration of alkalizing agents that are designed to reduce fatigue levels in a horse or, some believe, to mask the presence of other drugs.
The nationally ranked Mullins is one of two trainers disciplined with the detention requirement.
According to the Los Angeles Times
, two horses trained by Vladimir Cerin -- Bless Your Heart, who finished second Feb. 3, and Smuggler's Run, a winner on Feb. 5 -- had excessive levels of sodium bicarbonate when they ran, based on the tests.
As a result of the findings, Cerin's horses would be placed in a detention barn the day preceding a race for a 30-day period; his barn would be under surveillance for an additional 15 days after that, the newspaper reported.
Arthur told the Times
that a third trainer, who is unidentified because the investigation is still underway, would be placed under 45-day surveillance.
"In the next week, I'm going to be running tests on my horses to see if there's a reasonable explanation for this," Cerin told the Times
. "I'm embarrassed about this because I've been a strong voice in the movement to set up detention barns. I hope we find an explanation and I completely support the testing program."
Since surveying of horses began last spring, Mullins said he has had five horses test above the 37-millimole threshold established by California racing associations for total carbon dioxide (TCO2) per liter of blood plasma.
Mullins said that since he was informed of his first positive test at Hollywood Park, he's been conducting his own tests in an effort to determine what's causing the contamination. He said he uses several approved substances on his horses to relieve stomach problems and promote their well being.
"We've been pulling blood on some of our horses when they're just standing in their stalls," Mullins said. "And all of them have higher levels of alkalizing agents in their blood than normal. You can pick up almost anything in my barn and it'll have an alkalizing agent in it, I guess. I don't even know what an alkalizing agent is. I'm not a chemist. I'm a racehorse trainer."
Mullins said he's determined to get to the bottom of the problem.
"Santa Anita has been really helpful," Mullins said. "They've offered to help pay for the extra testing to figure it all out. We've completely backed off on all stomach medications from the day the horse's name hits the overnight. We're getting through it and it'll all work out. We have to make some adjustments and be a little more careful about what we're giving the horses from now on."
At a meeting with about 50 trainers at Santa Anita on Friday to explain milkshakes and the testing process currently in place, Arthur said, "You will not get a high (bicarbonate level) if you're not messing with your horses. We can tell who's been naughty and who's been nice. There is a very small handful of people who are violating. Eventually, the punishment is going to cost more than the reward."
Arthur said testing is being conducted voluntarily by the racing associations; therefore, no horses will be disqualified and no purse monies will be redistributed. However, when the California Horse Racing Board enacts an official bicarbonate rule later this year, "there will be fines and suspensions and purse redistributions."
Under Santa Anita's rules – which must be agreed to when horsemen apply for stall space – trainers who have horses test positive for excess TCO2 earn surveillance or the placing of horses in detention barns for a first offense, for which the offender must bear the cost. A second offense can mean a ban on entering horses for 15 days. A third offense can require revocation of stalls.
While Mullins has been assigned detention, the second trainer hasn't been disciplined yet, Arthur said.
"(He) has an entirely different history," Arthur said. "I realize it seems a little inconsistent, but we're trying to work with the trainer on this."