By Jeremy Balan
The California Horse Racing Board Medication and Track Safety Committee took a step forward Sept. 4 regarding the potential employment of third-party furosemide administration in the state, but any change in procedures still likely won't occur until 2016.
After the CHRB sent a proposal on third-party administration of furosemide, commonly known as Lasix or Salix, back to the Medication and Track Safety Committee during its last meeting Aug. 20, the regulatory agency suggested an altered proposal during Friday's meeting.
That proposal, which would authorize third-party Lasix administration, will be presented to the CHRB at its next meeting Sept. 16. The CHRB could approve the proposal to be sent out for a 45-day public comment period, which would come after it is approved and vetted by the state Office of Administrative Law.
After the 45-day comment period, the CHRB could then approve the proposal, but that likely won't happen until the next calendar year.
The committee settled on a path, but discussion on the topic focused on the "perception" surrounding the potential change to Lasix administration and how the issue is intertwined with barn area security and video surveillance.
Though California Thoroughbred Trainers president Jim Cassidy was one of those who opposed the Aug. 20 proposal, CTT executive director Alan Balch expressed the need for "urgency" regarding Lasix and backstretch security during the Sept. 4 meeting
"California Thoroughbred Trainers has always supported third-party administration of Lasix since 2011" Balch said. "Even though we have always believed and still believe it should be combined with increased security to make it meaningful, we have not opposed it without that important addition."
Balch continually brought up "perception" and dispelled what he believes are inaccurate depictions of barn area activity.
"There are other perceptions here that we're all well aware of," Balch said. "The first of those is that removing a Lasix syringe from the hands of a private veterinarian will improve the perception of the medication process—that doing that will remove suspicion and temptation. It is not explained how doing so will secure access to the horse for the rest of the racing day, prior to and after the Lasix administration.
"(The idea that) keeping (private) veterinarians from administering Lasix somehow actually removes suspicion and temptation is clearly erroneous. The administration of Lasix takes a couple minutes at most and leaves a great deal of opportunity for mayhem during the rest of the day if the backstretch community is corrupt, which we do not believe, in any way, is the case."
When asked to clarify his statements after the meeting, Balch emphasized the need for supervised Lasix administration as well as the need for increased security by the way of cameras in the stable area. Balch said a combination would be the best course of action to cut down on illegal drug use.
"Humans, being humans, are tempted to do things wrong, so I would never say it's entirely inappropriate to worry about this stuff," Balch said. "We have very intense drug testing. What has happened here is there is this perception that somehow the practicing vets—the private vets we have—are administering something at the time they're administering Lasix. There is no evidence of that whatsoever.
"We're hitting that fly with a sledgehammer, but let's get rid of that perception by getting Lasix administration supervised and have the stalls completely supervised through camera surveillance."
At the Aug. 20 meeting, CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur said "drugs other than Lasix are being administered to horses on race days. We know that, and this is what we're trying to prevent."
CHRB member Madeline Auerbach and CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker also spoke to the perception regarding activity in the barn area, and made sure to note that third-party Lasix proposals are not attacks on the state's veterinary community. Several vets were in attendance and some spoke to the committee.
"Somewhere along the way, it became OK to think that this was an attack on California vets. It is not," Auerbach said. "They are the finest in the country. That is not what this is about. It is about perception and about us being a part of a national community. If that message got mixed up somewhere, and some of our vets feel as if we don't trust them or don't admire their skill, that's absolutely the wrong message."
"This is, to a significant extent, based on perception and the perception of the sports world and those fans that we're trying to attract. (That perception is) sometimes based on stereotypes and stigmas," Baedeker said. "As many of you may have seen since the last board meeting, there was a total misconception about what took place. The message that seemed to be received by many is that California was against the national program of third-party administration of Lasix. If you were in the room, you knew that was not at all the case."
Thoroughbred Owners of California president Joe Morris, who supported the initial proposal from August, also supported the committee's suggested new proposal, as did Tom Robbins, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club's executive vice president of racing and industry relations.
Correction: In an earlier version of this article, it was reported that, under the proposal, racing associations would be able to chose between third-party Lasix administration and supervised administration from owner-hired veterinarians. That is not the case. The only option in the proposal is for third-party administration.