As a means to combat the possibility, executive director Ingrid Fermin, on behalf of the board's medications committee, ordered CHRB staff Feb. 16 to consult with The Jockey Club on the progress of plans to approve the implanting of microchips in Thoroughbreds as a means of identification. The microchip would be used in tandem with lip tatoo identification rather than as a replacement for it, she said. Meeting in Arcadia, the committee was reacting to rumors that trainers may be misidentifying horses at backstretch security gates to get them off the grounds for shock wave therapy treatments. They can then get around a 2002 rule requiring a 10-day wait before a horse that undergoes shock wave can be entered in a race, according to several people who spoke at the Feb. 16 meeting. Shock wave therapy can be effective on inflammation of ligaments and other orthopedic injuries, numbing the affected area, explained Oak Tree Racing Association board member and veterinarian Rick Arthur. Because of the analgesia, a horse that has had the treatment will not be aware of the injury and can suffer a serious setback or breakdown in competition. Horses that are treated at hospital facilities are known, but many lay-up facilities also have the shock wave machinery, Fermin said. While it is illegal for anyone but a registered veterinarian to administer or direct the treatment, it could happen off track grounds, said Dr. Gregory Ferraro of the University of California, Davis. Gate security personnel are not trained to identify horses through lip tattoos, so they accept the names of horses that are given to them and make a simple notation on a check-out sheet. "I think there's some smoke here and I think it does deserve our attention," Fermin said. Ferraro strongly urged the board to consider microchips, saying that in use with scanners, they have greatly eased the headaches of tracing the whereabouts of study horses in the Davis program. He said they are implanted with a syringe and it takes about 30 seconds while costing about $6 per chip. The committee also directed further study of a plan to store up to two years of frozen urine or blood samples taken from horses at the UC Davis equine laboratory. The stored samples could be used for later testing in the event a trainer's horse comes up with a positive test for a drug or other substance that could lend corroborating evidence.
"A trainer who is up to something won't sleep all that well knowing that those frozen samples are still there," Arthur said. The CHRB would require storage space for up to 18,000 urine samples per year, Davis' Dr. Scott Stanley said. Stanley, who is in charge of testing at the Ken Maddy Laboratory, said the samples could be used for informational purposes but not for direct prosecution. Fermin said CHRB investigators are stepping up inspections of vehicles in restricted areas of the backstretch to increase their visibility. Among the things they are doing is confiscating syringes after they have been used to inject Lasix and requiring vets to show proper identification. "We will search vehicles if need be," Fermin said. "We won't go in like gangbusters, but we will do random" van and vehicle checks.