CHRB Approves Random Drug Testing for Jockeys

Harness drivers also subject to screening; Jockey's Guild wants others tested.

Random drug testing of jockeys and harness drivers is set to begin in California after the state horse racing board gave final approval to the rule at its May 26 meeting at Golden Gate Fields.

In addition to the random testing, a rule requiring that annual jockey and driver physical examinations include a drug screening was also passed by the board. That ensures that even if not selected for random testing, all jockeys and drivers will have their urine tested for the presence of prohibited drugs at least once a year.

"This is a project that has been going on for several years," said commissioner John Harris. "The purpose of this is to be a safety thing for the jockeys because they are riding against each other."

Commissioner Jesse Choper agreed and noted that "an enormous percentage" of rider and drivers are law abiding. He said the rule "poses a deterrent to the ones that are misbehaving."

Choper said that no one is saying that jockeys are more subject to drug abuse than anyone else, "but they're the ones that pose a greater danger to not only themselves but to the confidence of the public."

The Jockey's Guild dropped its initial resistance to the plan, but during a 45-day public comment period suggested that random drug testing be extended to gate crew starters, outriders, stewards, and other racing association personnel who "are responsible for the integrity of the sport."

During the meeting, no one spoke against the proposed rule additions. Chairman Keith Brackpool suggested that the CHRB's medication and safety committee should begin the process of considering additional racetrack personnel for random drug tests.

All jockeys and drivers, including apprentices, would be subject to testing, and the board continues to have the right to test for cause. Those who have a positive screening or refuse to comply with testing requirements would be immediately prohibited from taking part in a race until a negative test is achieved.

Under the rule, stewards conducting the testing would draw no more than nine names from the official program each time; a name drawn more than once during a race meeting would be discarded and another selected. The frequency of testing would depend on the length of a meeting. A meet of up to five months would have at least one random drug testing, while one lasting six months or more would have at least two random test days.

By agreement with the Jockey's Guild, the prohibited drugs to be tested for are marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, and PCP. The board, in reviewing a positive test, may take into consideration the possession of a current medical marijuana program identification card in determining whether to bring an official complaint. That would provide some leeway for a jockey or driver that can present a valid legal reason for the presence of an otherwise prohibited drug.

In other action, the board approved allowing Southern California Off-Track Wagering Inc. to take over the operation of the satellite wagering facility at the county fairgrounds in Santa Maria, Calif. beginning June 1. SCOTWINC plans to operate "The Horse Man's Club" in Santa Maria, which is in Santa Barbara County, as a mini-satellite on an interim basis until a new location is established.

Rick Baedeker, recently named the business development manager for SCOTWINC, said the fair no longer wanted to operate the satellite facility because it was losing money. He disputed Brackpool's description of the location as "dilapidated," however.

"It is in the middle of a closed fair facility but once you get there, it's nice. They take care of you," Baedeker said. He said that because of the success of OC Tavern as a mini-satellite in San Clemente, Calif., it should be easier to attract new businesses as sites for wagering in the future.

The board approved licenses for two summer fair meets, the Sonoma County Fair at Santa Rosa from July 27 to Aug. 14 (15 days), and California Exposition and State Fair at Sacramento July 14-25 (nine days).

It postponed for one month consideration of its service, steward and official veterinarian contracts for the fiscal year 2011-12. Brackpool said he wanted to see more detailed information before approving the contracts, which include $1,987,250 for its combined drug testing program, $297,300 for the postmortem examination program, and $303,000 for the equine medical director budget. Other costs were $2.2 million for steward services and $520,000 for official veterinarians.

Noting the decline in wagering in the state, Brackpool wondered how the agency can continue to fund its programs at the same level every year. "Something is going to give," he said.