When will regulators or racetrack executives follow the lead of Woodbine in Canada and the New York Racing Association and stop allowing private practitioners to treat horses on the day of a race?
The administration of furosemide (Salix) or other bleeder medications is the reason veterinarians are allowed into the stall of a horse on race-day. At some racetracks, this practice leads to suspicion in the stable area and grandstand that some horses are getting a little something "extra" from practitioners who don't always follow the ethical standards of their profession.
That's the main reason NYRA instituted a detention barn and new procedures for anti-bleeder medication treatments in 2005. Officials wanted stricter control of who was permitted to enter the stall of a horse on race-day. At both NYRA and Woodbine, Salix is given by vets working for the state/province.
Red-faced officials with the California Horse Racing Board have discovered yet another reason to have this medication administered by a state veterinarian and not rely on private practitioners.
Last Sept. 3 at Del Mar, veterinarian Amy Nevens apparently was about 20 minutes late giving a shot of furosemide to Juddmonte Farms' Intercontinental, a Robert Frankel-trained mare who later won that day's Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) and would be voted an Eclipse Award as 2005 filly or mare turf champion. California rules require the shot be given no later than four hours before a race (three hours and 45 minutes including a 15-minute grace period).
Missing this deadline has happened to some of the best vets in the business. Dr. Rick Arthur, a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, was fined $100 for missing a furosemide deadline last November, necessitating the scratch of a horse at Hollywood Park.
But Nevens either made an honest mistake or tried to deceive California racing officials by turning in paperwork that said she gave the shot within the required time frame. However, a security guard shot a time-stamped video of Nevens treating the horse at 12:10 p.m., three hours and 25 minutes before the Palomar.
Track stewards did not scratch Intercontinental, an odds-on favorite, saying they were unaware of the infraction. But Gina Powell, at the time working at Del Mar as a racing official, told the San Diego Union-Tribune she had tried to alert other officials about it but was ignored. She suggested to the newspaper the matter was overlooked because of the large amount bet on the heavily favored Intercontinental, and that money mattered more than morals or ethics to racing officials in California. She left her job shortly after the incident, according to the San Diego newspaper.
Ingrid Fermin, executive director of the CHRB, said stewards were not aware of the problem until the day after the race. Six weeks passed before Nevens was fined $750 for giving the late shot and filing false paperwork.
Now, the owners of two horses who finished behind Intercontinental are questioning why the filly wasn't scratched that day, or subsequently disqualified from the $120,000 winner's share of the purse.
This cloud of suspicion over the CHRB came to be routine during the reign of the agency's former executive director, Roy Wood, who was under fire for operating in secrecy and cutting deals with trainers on medication violations before he left in 2004. Fermin promised more open and transparent enforcement of rules when she replaced Wood.
In the wake of the apparent rules violations involving Intercontinental, CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro has promised an investigation into what happened last Sept. 3.
When that's over, California should follow the lead set by Woodbine and NYRA on who gives race-day medication.