Southern California-based trainers will ask the California Horse Racing Board to establish a detention barn for "in-today" horses at the board's Dec. 4 meeting.
For the past month, trainers have circulated a petition for the detention barn, which supporters say is needed to combat an uneven playing field caused by horsemen who are allegedly using illegal and untested-for medications to enhance the performance of their horses.
Said trainer John Sadler, who has helped gather signatures for the detention barn: "Certainly a majority of trainers have signed the petition. What is historic is that it has gone from 20% support in past years to probably 80% today. People now believe our medication problem has grown and they are concerned.
"The things people can put in these racehorses always runs ahead of the testing, so the best system is to go for deterrence. If you're in a detention barn with cameras, and with (Salix) administered by the state vet, you can take the perception that it's not a level playing field off the table."
The petition is written in broad terms, and issues such as length of time horses would stay in the detention barn, who would administer Salix, and when and if grooms and trainers would be allowed in the barn have not been specified.
Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said his board is "very split on the issue. Nobody has been able to come up with proof that people are cheating, but the perception is there. Whether we go to a receiving barn or not, the CHRB needs to step up its presence on the backstretch. The mere possibility that an investigator may stick his head into your barn at any minute is the best deterrent, and although the CHRB may have stepped up security some, they have not raised that fear in people's minds."
In a 2000 report on Integrity in Racing, the CTT recommended surveillance cameras, spot checks, and a visible presence of CHRB investigators in the barn area. "If some or all of those were brought into play, a receiving barn would not be necessary," Halpern said. "But a great number of trainers are saying none of those things are happening, so we need the barn."
CHRB chairman Roger Licht said full-time investigators are on the backstretch, and that dramatic efforts are being made to root out cheaters.
"Making sure that horsemen and bettors believe there is a level playing field is the highest priority for the board," Licht said. "I'm confident our investigative staff is doing an outstanding job, but I think there is a perception that we're not. We have continuing investigations and we have and will follow up any real lead we get. Cameras are being implemented to a degree, as well as some things we just can't talk about publicly."
After the CHRB hears the trainers' presentation, Licht said he would likely poll the board to see if it recommends the writing of a proposed rule that would be discussed at the board's next meeting, slated for January.