Fermin Says Horse Monitoring Biggest Focus

The California Horse Racing Board is focusing on increased monitoring of horses shipping in and out of barn areas, executive director Ingrid Fermin told the board's ad hoc security committee during its meeting at Del Mar Aug. 19.

Since the Del Mar meet began, Fermin said, any horse entering or leaving the stable gate must be logged both in and out. She said that future plans call for trainers to be completely responsible for all horses in their care who ship in or out of any stable area and that they'd likely be required to sign forms acknowledging that they are ultimately responsible. In the case of medical emergency, a veterinarian would assume the responsibility.

"We're going to implement (the plan) statewide," Fermin said. "In any kind of medical emergency, of course the horse comes first and that would obviously be (an exception)."

Meeting for the first time in nearly a year, the ad hoc security committee discussed several security issues and new procedures affecting racing in the state, including the pre-race testing of all horses for total carbon dioxide (TCO2). The most prominent issue during the nearly 90-minute meeting was surveillance, both random and earned, and whether it has been successful in deterring trainers from using illegal medications or administering illegal race-day substances to horses.

Milkshakes have been at the forefront of the California integrity issue of late, but trainer Darrell Vienna believes that TCO2 testing is only scratching the surface.

"The length of surveillance is as important as the scope," Vienna said. "The longer the better. (Alkalizing agents) are just one of a number of unnatural and prohibited substances administered to horses. We have too much of a blinker on to think that (alkalizing agents) are the only problem.

"The main goal is to provide integrity to the sport and minimize the detriment to the horse. And to do this some people have to sacrifice."

While acknowledging that earned surveillance and detention barns have been helpful in deterring the administration of alkalizing agents as well as other illegal medications, several committee members expressed their displeasure with any plan to make security barns permanent for all trainers. Detractors cited financial limitations, logistics and the effect on the horses for their opposition.

Currently all horses set to run in added-money events and at least one random race per day are watched by members of a private security firm for six hours, which some committee members deemed insufficient.

"I think (recently disciplined trainer) Cole Norman proved that six hours wasn't enough," trainer Bruce Headley said. "The only thing that's really going to deter (illegal behavior) is fines and sanctions to get their attention."

Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, racing manager for CHRB board member Jerry Moss and the wife of trainer John Sherriffs, said she'd experienced first-hand the negative side to detention barns. At this year's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) she said her husband's charge, Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo, was noticeably upset when forced to spend several hours in a detention barn before the race. She said she does support detention situations for all trainers, however, should the detention stalls be part of a trainer's actual barn.

"It's not good for the horse (to ship into a detention barn)," Ingordo-Sherriffs said. "Aside from the financial hardship to the trainer, it's a detriment to the horses. Stalls right there near where the horse is regularly is a much better situation."

Thoroughbred Owners of California president Drew Couto disagreed.

"If (detention barns are) done elsewhere in the world, we can do it here," Couto said. "If we get to the point we want to do this, we can do it. Of course the cost will go up, but we can get there.

"When you accept it as part of the game, (surveillance) is not a problem."

While all the permanent surveillance issues remain in the early discussion stage, it should be implemented as soon as possible, according to Dr. Rick Arthur, who heads California's TCO2 testing program. He said that last year alone Oak Tree Racing Association spent between $30,000 and $35,000 on increasing security for the 23-day meeting.

"The old way isn't going to work anymore," Arthur said. "We need to develop new tactics to see what works. The bottom line is that integrity is good business for horseracing. But it's not just integrity, it's a good business decision."

Fermin said that random confiscation of syringes from licensed veterinarians and horse transport vans is likely to continue. So far the seizure of syringes from several track veterinarians has produced only legal medications, including Salix and estrogen. Both are class 3 medications.

The ad hoc security committee consists of more than 30 members of California's racing community, including CHRB board members, owners, trainers and racing association representatives.