The California Horse Racing Board approved pre-race blood testing for "milkshakes" during its Jan. 20 meeting, but implementation of the proposal will have to await passage of a state law exempting the tests from split-sample requirements.
The crackdown on the use of bicarbonates makes it a Class 3 violation --which carries a purse forfeiture -- to race a horse at levels of total carbon dioxide (TCO2) above 37 millimoles per liter of blood serum or plasma. It comes after several racing associations in the state, through voluntary random testing programs, determined the practice was taking place.
As part of its stall application process, Santa Anita Park has made trainers subject to losing stable space and possible suspension for milkshaking violations.
Once the new statewide policy is in place, Dr. Scott Stanley of the University of California at Davis told the CHRB, he could give "99% assurance that there's not a lot of nefarious drug use going on."
State law requires that post-race drug analysis be independently verified through split samples to support findings of excessive levels of prohibited substances, but that is impractical to provide in the case of TCO2 testing because of bicarbonate's short shelf life, Stanley said.
Legislation exempting milkshake testing from split-sample requirements has been introduced in the state assembly. CHRB commissioner Marie Moretti said that it would be at least a couple of months before the measure by Assemblyman Jerome Horton (D-Inglewood) could be passed "even as an urgency bill."
Under questions from commissioner Richard Shapiro, Stanley said there were "multiple difficulties" in trying to handle the testing and analysis of each horse prior to running. He said the analysis needs to be done in a consistent manner that would not be possible in a portable laboratory. The testing would be done at the UC Davis Ken Maddy analytical equine testing laboratory.
"The optimum time is for the testing to be done in the receiving barn," he said, not several hours prior to race time.
Results of survey testing of more than 700 horses during the Oak Tree Racing Association and Del Mar meets indicated that "alkalizing substances are being administered," the CHRB's Dr. Ron Jensen told the board.
"Milkshakes" are mixtures of bicarbonate of soda and liquid, usually Gatorade or another sports drink, which is force-fed to a horse shortly before it competes. The mixture is believed to delay the build up of lactic acid in a horse's muscles, allowing it to run farther before tiring. Because the excess carbon dioxide in a horse's bloodstream quickly dissipates, testing must be done immediately after races.
At Santa Anita, where all horses are being tested, a positive finding could land a trainer's horses in a race-day detention barn for up to 60 days, according to Dr. Rick Arthur of Oak Tree. A second positive could mean 180 days. There have been no positives reported during the current winter meeting.
Other surveillance may include, but not be limited to, the placing of cameras with recording devices in any location within that barn that Santa Anita deems necessary and appropriate to ensure the integrity of racing.
In other action, the board directed CHRB staff to proceed with plans to add new requirements to license applications for conducting race meetings. The new form would require associations to provide an audited financial statement and more information about electronic security systems. It would also ask applicants to identify steps taken to increase on-track attendance and development of new race fans, including details for advertsing and promotion.
Dave Payton, regional sales manager for tote manager Scientific Games Racing, told the board that his company is nearing success in providing alternate runners in Pick 4 and Pick 6 wagers. Since the Pick 6 scandal at the 2003 Breeders' Cup, the company has not been able to provide alternate runner selections because of the new scanning system implemented to blunt any similar technology scam in the future. Instead, bettors are automatically assigned the race-time favorite on tickets that have scratched runners.
"We can have (the change) ready for everyone in the state in time for Del Mar," Payton said.
The board is also considering a change in policy that will allow for the release of names of people who have been served with CHRB complaints for violations of Class 1, 2, or 3 medication violations. Under the proposal, the names would be posted on the board's Web site and would include the nature of the violation, the date of the infraction and the scheduled board hearing, the track, and the horse involved.