California Joins Growing List of States to Ban EPO

Erythropoietin, a human medication designed to increase the concentration of red blood cells that is rumored to be in use on racehorses, has been added to the list of prohibited veterinary substances on racing premises by the California Horse Racing Board.

The board voted unanimously at its Wednesday meeting to take the action, adding California to a growing list of states taking similar action including Kentucky, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Dr. Ronald Jensen, CHRB equine medical director, recommended the addition of Erythropoietin, known as EPO, and its closely related medication, Darbepoietin, to the list of banned substances although a test has not been developed yet for accurate detection of the drugs.

"There are substances that may be in use at racetracks that are difficult to detect under current laboratory testing methods," he said. Jensen said that officials continued to work on finding a successful method for testing with current technology.

While EPO has proven effective at producing red blood cells on humans who have the physiology to keep the concentration under control, Jensen said horses can not.

"In theory, the use of the drug would improve the stamina of the horse, therefore improve performance," Jensen reported. "There is evidence that serious adverse effects could result to the horse under the administration of these drugs. Adverse effects would include severe hemoconcentration, and an immune response leading to a severe anemia that may be unresponsive to treatment."

Under questioning from commissioner Roger Licht, Jensen said that he believed EPO and Darbepoietin are in use on backstretches in the state. He said the rule change would give investigators another method of discouragement.

On other matters, CHRB staff analyst John Reagan reported that account deposit wagering continues to grow in the state, and now accounts for 6.25 percent of the state's overall handle. The most recent statewide total is $86.2 million, wagered since ADW took effect in January.

Del Mar executive vice president Craig Fravel defended the track's decision to not accept betting on an Aug. 18 mule race featuring the popular Black Ruby at Ferndale, saying that Del Mar and the state's horsemen were hurt by minus pools in so-called minor breed races last summer. He said the track lost $250,000 on various minus pools involving mule, Arabian and Appaloosa races simulcast by Del Mar.

Responding to criticism from commissioner John Harris that the track was being "arrogant," Fravel said Del Mar would offer a special non-wagering match race between Black Ruby, the champion of the mule circuit, and her major rival, Taz.

Taz will be ridden in the race by Cowboy Jack Kaenel, the rider of 1982 Preakness winner Aloma's Ruler, Kaenel confirmed.