Vet Outlines Santa Anita 'Milkshake' Program

The veterinarian in charge of the committee that oversees Santa Anita Park's milkshake testing program said he has nothing to do with the process and is only involved when notified that a trainer's horse has exceeded the acceptable level of total carbon dioxide in its blood.

Dr. Rick Arthur, private veterinarian to trainer Richard Mandella and several other Southern California conditioners, was responding to a charge from trainer Jeff Mullins that he has a conflict of interest. Arthur, who had the same role with milkshake testing at the 2004 Oak Tree and Del Mar meets, said he was asked to participate because of his expertise in testing and laboratory procedures.

Mullins was the first of four trainers required to move their horses to a 24-hour backstretch detention barn because of a TCO2 test that exceeded the 37-millimole per liter standard for one of his horses. Mullins, in an article by Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers, waved the conflict of interest charge at Arthur because of his relationship with Mandella.

"I understand the issue very well from the backside to the laboratory," Arthur said. "In a perfect world, someone else would serve in the position I hold. I admit stopping horses from being milkshaked helps Mandella and all the rest of my clients, plus all the other non-milkshake trainers. If that is a conflict of interest, so be it. The bottom line is that I can neither hide a high test nor make one high. That is up to the individual trainer."

The current testing process is independent of the California Horse Racing Board, but follows the CHRB's regular procedures, he said.

"I do not have access to the database nor does anyone from the CHRB," said Arthur, who explained the testing process in an e-mail response to questions from The Blood-Horse. He said Santa Anita veterinarian Dr. Cathy Canfield is drawing the pre-race blood samples on all horses entered to run.

"Using the same procedures as used for official test samples, each tube is numbered," Arthur said. "A record is made correlating which horse goes with which tube number. We use the same form used by the CHRB for official samples."

Arthur said the samples are shipped to Dr. Scott Stanley at the Ken Maddy Equine Testing Laboratory at the University of California-Davis, where they are numbered. That record is sent to Santa Anita general manager George Haines.

After being analyzed, the lab notifies Haines, who looks up the sample number to identify the trainer and horse involved. Haines notifies the committee and the trainer, who is told to come in for a meeting.

"I handle all the technical and medical issues at the meetings," Arthur said. "This includes challenging untenable explanations. Dr. Stanley and I have looked at enough possibilities, many by actual administrations, to know when a story does or doesn't add up. This has rankled trainers. Bluntly, they don't like it when their BS stories are challenged."

Arthur said 3,628 horses were tested during the first 59 days of the 85-day winter/spring meet. Of those, only five have exceeded the threshold for TCO2 of 37mmls/1. That equates to one horse in every 725 tested, or 0.138%. He said the last horse to exceed the level was Always the Best, who finished fifth in the fifth race on Feb. 16.

"The Jeff Mullins-T.J. Simers controversy has caused a distortion of the extent of the milkshaking problem," Arthur said. "The fact is our program has been very successful. I would challenge any other professional sport to produce numbers as good as ours."

Arthur said Mullins' average TCO2 dropped more than two millimoles since his recent troubles, "a huge drop for an average, and he hasn't had one over 35 millimoles since he went into the detention barn."

Mandella and trainer Bruce Headley, another trainer accused of a conflict of interest by Mullins, offered in a recent letter to have all their TCO2 tests made public.

Mullins, who left March 19 for Dubai, where he will saddle the former Headley claimer Choctaw Nation in the $6-million World Cup (UAE-I) March 26, was non-committal about publicizing his test results.

"I haven't even seen them," he said. "Why would they release them to the public if I haven't seen them?"