Following a court ruling in March that found "house rules" banning the use of drugs like clenbuterol and albuterol for Los Alamitos Race Course Quarter Horse races to be in conflict with California Horse Racing Board rules, the regulatory agency made "emergency amendments" to allow the practice to continue through the conditions of races during a board meeting July 14 at Del Mar.
Three measures—one to dismiss a prior approval for the "house rules" to move in line with the court ruling, and two more to establish new verbiage for the rule, allowing Los Alamitos to continue its testing program—were approved unanimously by the CHRB and will now be evaluated by California's Office of Administrative Law.
Although the impact is not directly related to Thoroughbred racing in the state, California Thoroughbred Trainers executive director Alan Balch opposed the modified rule, citing "broad" wording that could, in the future, be applied to Thoroughbreds, if a racing association gets an agreement from "the acknowledged horsmen's organization."
"Although the issue that has been raised for today's meeting relates to Quarter Horse racing and it is intended to remedy a situation in Quarter Horse racing, the rule is written very broadly," Balch said. "It applies to all racing and all racing secretaries. ... I don't think it's prudent to develop medication rules, standards, methods of testing, and so forth, that are decided upon or developed by a subset of the (CHRB), because that goes around the processes that are set in law for everyone."
The change essentially allows for the conditions of a race to be "based on a participating horse's use or non-use of a drug substance or medication." Testing of "a biological test sample" would be done by the racing association that sets the condition of the race.
"If OAL approves it, it will change how medication testing is done in the state," Balch said. "That's another part of Pandora's box."
CHRB members and chief counsel Robert Miller attempted to reassure Balch about the regulation and its "emergency" nature, meaning it has to be readopted by the board "in six months to a year" to continue beyond that time period, according to Miller.
Earlier in the meeting, representatives from Golden Gate Fields put forward a proposal to eliminate its use of the Alameda County Fair racing facility at Pleasanton as an "auxiliary stabling" venue for its meet running Oct. 16-Dec. 25, in an effort to save an estimated $500,000.
Representing The Stronach Group, which owns Golden Gate, Joe Morris and Scott Daruty said the Bay Area track will expand from 1,431 stalls to 1,500 to accommodate incoming horses if the move gets approved when Golden Gate applies for its racing license at the August CHRB meeting.
Daruty made the case that, while Pleasanton houses around 200-300 horses during that time, the cost of keeping the facility open as an auxiliary stable exceeds the benefit of keeping race horses there to race at Golden Gate.
"The reality is, we have not been very efficient at operating our auxiliary stable," Daruty said. "In other words, there have been horses there, but they have not been horses that have been racing at our race meets.
"It's not a knock on Pleasanton," Daruty said later. "They do a great job and it's a great facility, but the reality is it's expensive. Two million dollars to keep Pleasanton open, when often times there's only a couple hundred horses there, just doesn't make economic sense."
Balch and Thoroughbred Owners of California president Nick Coukos both opposed the plan, because they felt 1,500 stalls at Golden Gate is not enough.
"Right now, the TOC position is that we need 1,625 stalls up north for us to take that into consideration," Coukos said.
"We believe that the number is probably at 1,600 or greater," Balch added. "We don't like to hear tracks saying, 'We can't recruit horses, because we don't have anywhere to put them.' We have certain people in the North who say, 'We can't close Pleasanton, because people will move south.' Well, we don't exactly have room in the South, either."