CHRB, UC-Davis Drug-Testing Pact Assailed

By Tom LaMarra & Jack Shinar
A state lawmaker claims the California Horse Racing Board is violating the law by awarding an equine drug-testing contract to the University of California-Davis, and said he would recommend that a legislative committee hold off on approving funds for the CHRB and the laboratory.

In an April 15 release, Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine said the CHRB violated the California Business & Professions Code when it authorized its staff March 24 to seek an inter-agency agreement with UC-Davis to make the Ken Maddy Equine Testing Laboratory the state's primary drug-testing facility. The lab currently performs one-third of all drug testing.

The decision would end a 50-year relationship with Truesdail Laboratories of Tustin, Calif., which is in DeVore's district, when the current contract expires June 30. However, the assemblyman said state law mandates that two-thirds of the testing be competitively awarded to private companies.

"The California Horse Racing Board must believe they are a law unto themselves," DeVore said in his release. "The CHRB, apparently on the recommendation of Dr. Ron Jensen, the CHRB equine medical director, decided to award a sole-source contract for all routine racehorse drug testing to the UC-Davis Maddy Lab. This is a direct violation of the California Business & Professions Code Section 19577(g).

"What further troubles me is that Dr. Jensen is on the staff at UC-Davis. His recommendation to the CHRB to send more taxpayer money to the Maddy Lab is a potential conflict of interest."

The CHRB, through spokesman Mike Marten, issued an immediate response.

"The California Horse Racing Board acted in accordance with state administrative rules and state contracting rules concerning agreements between two state agencies, and acted in the knowledge that the awarding of the contract is not contrary to the statute.

"With the CHRB staff in support of the proposal, and at a public meeting, the Board acted in the belief that an interagency agreement would be in the best interests of the public and the integrity of the industry."

The section of California Business & Professions Code cited by DeVore says: "The board shall contract with the regents of the University of California to have one-third of the routine equine drug testing required by this section performed by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory."

A subsequent section says the CHRB and the university "may expand the services provided by the laboratory to the board in a manner that is mutually agreeable and is consistent with Section 19577 and this section."

The Maddy Lab performs specialized and highly sensitive testing for performance-enhancing drugs in racehorses, but only one-third of routine drug testing. According to testimony at the March 24 board meeting, its state-of-the-art instrumental testing procedures permit detection of more than 800 compounds in every sample. Jensen noted that the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association wants more thorough testing and is proposing to make such "supertesting" mandatory for maintaining or gaining graded stakes recognition.

Following the board's 5-0 vote at its March meeting, commission chairman John Harris said, "When we begin sending all samples to the Maddy Lab, all tested horses will get the 'supertest' whether they run in graded stakes or claiming races."

DeVore said the University of California has a policy of not competing in a market that has commercial alternatives. "We should discourage taxpayer-subsidized entities from competing against the taxpayers themselves," he said. "In addition, (University of California) facilities should be used first and foremost for education and research, not for routine commercial testing."

DeVore, as a member of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee 4 on State Administration, has oversight over the CHRB budget, which will be considered April 26. "I intend to ask my colleagues to hold approval of the general fund line item for the CHRB and the Maddy Lab to encourage them to comply with the law," DeVore said in his release.