The commission's medication committee — consisting of board chairman Richard Shapiro and vice chairman John Harris — urged rule changes Nov. 28 that would add the four most commonly used anabolic steroids in horses to the list of drug substances it can sample in official urine tests. The full board will examine the committee's recommendation at its meeting Nov. 29 at the University of California-Davis.
"The Breeders' Cup is very much in support of this," said Dr. Rick Arthur, the CHRB's equine medical director.
Testing approval is just one step in the process. The board also plans to move these four anabolic steroids into the Class 3 level, which carries penalties such as purse disqualification and suspension. They are currently categorized in Class 4, punishable by a warning.
Arthur said he hopes to have all the necessary rule changes covering anabolic steroids at the Oak Tree Racing Association's Breeders' Cup in place by July. The 2008 Breeders' Cup will be held Oct. 24-25.
Recommended allowable levels in urine tests would ensure that competing horses are as anabolic steroid-free as possible, according to Arthur. The anabolic steroids that would be affected by the restrictions are stanozolol (one nanogram per millimeter of urine), nandrolone (one nanogram for fillies, mares and geldings and 45 nanograms for males), boldenone (15 nanograms in males other than geldings) and testosterone (55 nanograms in fillies and mares and 20 nanograms for geldings). The latter would be allowed at any level in non-gelded males.
The proposal is based on the Racing Medication Testing Consortium and Racing Commissioner International anabolic steroid model rules. Additional allowable levels would have to be adopted if the board wishes to test for anabolic steroids through blood samples, acknowledged as being more accurate than urine.
Arthur said withdrawal times have not been established for horses under anabolic steroid treatment, but suggested that two months would be a conservative estimate.
"The effort here is to regulate anabolic steroids rather than to prohibit them," Arthur said. "We may do that, but anabolic steroids are widely used in horse racing. This is a way to ease the industry to this particular step."
Added Harris, "One challenge is to get the word out so people can change their regimens."
With the Breeders' Cup less than a year away, California racing expects many horses from throughout the world. Anabolic steroids have been banned overseas, in some cases for decades.
"The international community is way ahead on this one," Arthur said.
More than 40 other anabolic steroids are considered Class 3 substances in California. Designer steroids such as Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) are Class 1.
The committee also voiced its concerns about regulating anabolic steroid use at the state's horse sales.
"It's one of the most pressing issues that we're dealing with today," Shapiro said.
In other business, the committee recommended that the CHRB consider allowing horses to race unshod, a change reflecting the synthetic track era. "Horses who race unshod actually may have stronger hooves," Arthur said. "With the move to synthetic tracks, I think it makes a lot of sense."