The California Horse Racing Board during its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Feb. 23 at Santa Anita Park unanimously approved a measure to allow races to be run with medication-based eligibility conditions.
After a ruling in March by the Los Angeles County Superior Court—which forced the CHRB to set aside its approval of Los Alamitos Race Course's "house rules" banning the use of Clenbuterol, Albuterol, Zilpaterol, and Ractopamine for Quarter Horses races—the CHRB took an emergency action in the spring of 2016 to allow Los Alamitos to continue that practice. The vote Thursday made that temporary, emergency action permanent. The Superior Court found that Los Alamitos' "house rules" at the time had conflicts with CHRB rules, which forced the change in the CHRB rule.
Under the approved new amendment, racing secretaries in California can establish medication-based eligibility conditions as long as the conditions are "agreed to in advance in writing by the acknowledged horsmen's organization. ... If such conditions are based on the results of a biological test sample other than an official test sample by the CHRB, a description of the testing methods and procedures the racing or fair (association) will use to collect and analyze the biological test samples shall be submitted to the board for approval."
During the 45-day comment period that preceded the CHRB meeting Thursday, Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association president Dominic Alessio and Breeders' Cup president and chief executive officer Craig Fravel both expressed support for the measure.
"Enacting the proposed amendments, which furthers our mission of promoting safety and integrity in racing, is a critical component of the Breeders' Cup in selecting future sites and we urge adoption," Fravel wrote in a Feb. 10 letter to the CHRB.
One dissenting opinion during the public comment period came from lawyer and former trainer Darrell Vienna, who represented Quarter Horse owner Gustavo De La Torre during the Superior Court case. Vienna took issue with the CHRB delegating medication rules to entities other than itself.
"When the legislature delegated to the board the power and responsibility to adopt medication regulations, it did not grant the board the authority to delegate its rulemaking powers to anyone, much less a private entity," Vienna wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to the CHRB.
Vienna also said the amendments to the rule "not only fail to resolve the conflict noted in the De La Torre decision, they serve to reinstate the conflict." He also took issue with hair testing that is used by Los Alamitos for the purpose of its medication-based conditions.
"Hair testing does not demonstrate the presence of a substance in a horse's system, but simply is a biological record of prior contact with the substance," Vienna wrote.
During the meeting Thursday and before the CHRB voted, the amendment was supported by Tom Robbins, Del Mar's executive vice president of racing and industry relations, and Los Alamitos attorney Drew Couto.
"Contrary to the views opposing this measure, medication policy in the state has always reflected not simply the board's view, but a reflection of horsemen's interest and racing association interest," Couto said. "A melding of all those interests has led to the medication policies we have. In this particular instance, you have the racing association ... and its horsemen agreeing there was an issue within the industry and there needed to be something done to address that."
Also during the meeting, the CHRB advanced other medication and horse-health related proposals by sending them out for a 45-day public-comment period.
One proposal seeks to amend a CHRB rule to require "horses that come off of a layoff of 120 days or more to undergo a special examination by either the official veterinarian or the racing veterinarian to verify that the horse is physically sound and able to safely and lawfully compete in a race." The CHRB analysis attached to the proposal cited a statistic that, between 2013-16, "approximately 20%" of fatalities were "suffered by horses that were racing after being laid up for 120 days or more."
The other proposal approved for a 45-day public-comment period was to "incorporate the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rule for out-of-competition testing into the CHRB's rules and regulations." The out-of-competition testing recommendation adopted by ARCI was developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
Included in the proposed amendments is a clarification on the CHRB's authority to collect test samples and on which horses are eligible for the testing, an extension of the split-sample process for post-race testing, and an expansion in number of medications and drugs prohibited. CHRB equine medical director Rick Arthur also said the amendments would include "a big change in anabolic steroids."
"We've really, really decreased the use of anabolic steroids. This is going to put the nail in that coffin," Arthur said. "We do allow anabolic steroid use if a horse is sick or debilitated. ... But (under the new rule) the horse has to be 'kicked out.' It's on the vet's list (for six months) and to be clear—to come off, they have to test clean."
Fravel, representing the Breeders' Cup, also supported these proposals, but Thoroughbred Owners of California president and chief executive officer Greg Avioli asked for a slow-down on new medication regulations.
"These are a series of regulations, that in the aggregate, would substantially expand the testing programs that we have today (and) the costs of testing. ... Thousands of horses would have additional tests," Avioli said. "It's expensive, so we want to do things that make sense. ... We're not trying to (obstruct), but we believe, in some instances, we need to take a step back before we launch into more and more rules and regulations.
"There are a lot of rules in the process. We still have not gotten through the third-party Lasix rule process, (which has gone on) for a number of years now. ... There's a backlog. We've got a lot going on and we're pushing more and more into the funnel now, and that's why we're concerned."