“I feel that it would be a bit of a breach of confidentiality between the client and the veterinarian,” said Dr. Jeff Blea, a racetrack veterinarian and the president of the Southern California Equine Foundation. “I would want to honor that confidentiality.”
Hosted by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the summit brought together racing experts from California and around the country to discuss veterinary medical records, California medication rules and penalties, and the future of breeding and training. Richard Shapiro and John Harris of the California Horse Racing Board, California Equine Medical Director Rick Arthur, and Alex Waldrop, chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, were among the panelists.
Madeline Auerbach, a TOC board member, moderated the first panel with California Thoroughbred Trainers executive director Ed Halpern. Auerbach broached the subject of who owns vet records and why they couldn’t travel with a horse when it changes hands. Arthur and attorney Steve Schwartz explained that under California law, the veterinarian owns an animal’s medical records, with the owner entitled to a summary.
“But what about the horse whose joints have been injected?” Auerbach asked. She suggested that a rule change would benefit both the horse and the new owner.
“What concerns me about disclosure is where to draw the line,” said Blea. “Some of these things are open to interpretation. That you can get a variety of interpretations to get the answer you want worries me a little.”
Blea also posed the question of a horse that has been injected with corticosteroids. “I don’t know why you would do that in this day and age,” he said, “but what would prevent a new owner from suing the previous owner for animal cruelty?”
Leigh Ann Howard, vice president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, said she would favor a rule change that would allow veterinary records travel with the horse.
“However, I am a little concerned because of the lawsuit potential,” she said. “Because of all these lawsuits, this issue is becoming complicated, and that’s too bad.”
Halpern polled the audience of about 60 people, and almost all voted in favor of such a rule change. Arthur cited Europe’s equine passport system and said that the industry would have to decide what treatments and procedures should be registered on either a passport or in a database
“The CHRB is working to get the confidential veterinary reports filed electronically and as a searchable data base,” Arthur said. “Something like this is doable.”
Arthur pointed out that records maintained by the CHRB, a state agency, would be subject to state disclosure laws.
“We may be the only industry where a failure to disclose is the norm,” Halpern said. “But what would we be creating? What are the dangers? We may be opening up all new possibilities for liability in an industry where most people are in it for the pleasure.”
Former trainer Laura de Seroux noted that people buying used cars have more information than people who buy horses. “Liability problems are far less important than the benefits to the horse,” she said.
Arthur expressed frustration with trying to get rules through California’s bureaucracy. During the second panel on the state’s medication rules and penalties, he said that while the CHRB passed new penalty guidelines months ago, the guidelines have yet to be implemented because of the state’s Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approval process.
“The OAL literally found a missing comma and a few other minor things,” Arthur said. “We had to send the guidelines back out for another 15-day notice after changing a few things. We’ll be lucky if we can get the guidelines implemented in the next few months.”
Shapiro noted that medication positives can drag on sometimes for years because California’s laws allow a defendant’s attorney to employ delaying tactics. Ingrid Fermin, the CHRB’s executive director, said that the industry is working on a bill, AB 1616, that would help streamline these cases.
Arthur and Dr. Scott Stanley of the Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Laboratory reported on plans for regulating anabolic steroids. Stanley is working on developing blood tests for steroids, in part so that young horses headed for public auction could be tested.
“We have had discussion with some sales companies about doing this kind of testing,” Stanley said. “We hope to have provisional testing in process in 2008 with some sales companies.”
Arthur said that once such tests are in place, he expects the CHRB to reclassify the final four anabolic steroids—boldenone (Equipoise), stanozolol (Winstrol), nandrolone (Durabolin), and testosterone—as Class 3 drugs.
“Steroids then would not be allowed to be administered within 30 to 60 days of racing,” Arthur said. “There is some opposition to this, but anabolic steroids won’t be tolerated by the public. Most people presume we are already regulating steroids.”
The final panel focused on how the Thoroughbred breed has changed and whether it has been weakened. Several panelists pointed to the evolution from owner-breeders to the commercialization of the industry.
“More than 25% of the Thoroughbred crop each year is sold commercially,” said Ray Paulick, editor of The Blood-Horse. “People are breeding not to see how they race but to see how they sell.”
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said that while horses today have the same types of leg injuries they have always had, he has noticed a huge increase in the number of breathing problems.
“We’ve bred that into them,” he said. “Racing did itself a disservice by allowing any medication. If you allow medication, it will be used because training horses is a very insecure job. Everyone is concerned about what the other guy is doing.”
Many panelists said that the industry’s economics are driving these changes.
“Someone would always rather have the horse who wins its first three starts rather than the hard-knocking horse,” said Harris. “Everyone wants that instant gratification, the horse that can run right back and win.”