Calif. Owners Could Face Fines When Horses Test Positive

Calif. Owners Could Face Fines When Horses Test Positive
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Owners -- along with their trainers -- whose horses have repeated medication violations are subject to tough new penalties under changes given final approval by the California Horse Racing Board April 19.

Over the objections of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the board unanimously okayed monetary fines for owners as an added incentive to monitor their stables and trainers’ actions more closely.

These fines, which can range up to $50,000, are on top of forfeiting purse money and other penalties such as suspensions. Trainers and veterinarians face similar punishment. Owners would not be fined until a third offense in major drug categories.

The rule changes will go into effect in the next 30 to 60 days following an administrative review.
       
Meeting at Arcadia City Hall next to Santa Anita Park, the board adopted proposals that follow the guidelines set forth by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

“The RMTC recognizes that this is a global problem in terms of drug positives,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, CHRB equine medical director. “Our penalties get everybody involved in coming to solutions.  … These penalties may seem rather draconian. These are much more severe penalties than usually given out. But the process requires hearing officers take into consideration all mitigating factors.”

Marsha Naify, TOC medication chairman, told the board that the TOC directors -- who had earlier endorsed fines -- had voted against these added penalties because they might discourage owners from racing in California.

“The number of owners in our state has been declining for several years,” she said. “It’s difficult to stay in this game. Stiff fines for owners here while other states have none would make it harder to keep owners or attract new ones.”

Naify said that she had spoken to several other owners. “They voiced the overall concern that fines for owners would be detrimental to the sport. If we are the only state to have fines, it would clearly hurt. California would be at a clear disadvantage.”

But somebody has to go first, noted the commissioners.
       
“No doubt the economics are challenging, but owners have to take responsibility for their investment and know what their trainers are doing,” chairman Richard Shapiro said. “We are apart from other states. We want to be better than other states. We’re testing for 800 drugs. We want the most level playing field and the highest integrity in racing.”

Added commissioner Marie Moretti, “If you always wait for someone else to make the first move, no one will do anything.”

Owners fines have the support of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said CTT executive director Ed Halpern. “It’s time for owners to take responsibility in our sport just like they do in all other professional sports … We don’t want trainers who may be pushing the envelope. We’re not scaring owners away. We’re telling people, in California, they don’t allow cheats.”

TOC executive director Guy Lamothe suggested that the CHRB wait until other states take similar actions. “We would still be way ahead of any other racing jurisdiction,” he said, noting the proposed drug rule changes approved earlier by the board.

“If California takes a strong stand, it’s a catalyst for other states,” responded commissioner John Amerman. “We may be taking the high moral ground, but someone has to break the logjam.”

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