By T. D. Thornton
A rule to require third-party administration of furosemide (Lasix), which has been debated and tweaked in various forms by the California Horse Racing Board since 2012, was picked apart and batted back and forth for 90 minutes Thursday at the board’s monthly meeting before finally being remanded back to the Medication and Track Safety Committee for further clarification.
Before the 5-2 vote to punt the issue back to the committee, CHRB chairman Chuck Winner underscored that the delay would push implementation of some sort of a third-party Lasix rule back to December at the earliest, and quite possibly into 2016 because of the likelihood that any language changes would have to be reviewed yet again by both the state Office of Administrative Law and the Veterinary Medical Board.
“I don’t want to speak for everybody, but I think we all sort of agree we need the program. I just don’t know that we all feel we’re fully informed,” said commissioner Madeline Auerbach, who also chairs the medication and safety committee.
The fact that a lack of information was cited as the primary reason for not taking a full-board vote on the issue seemed particularly exasperating to CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur, DVM, who had devoted countless hours to researching the topic and had advocated for passage.
“This is a process that has been going on for three years, and frankly, I think this is an embarrassment to California and this board and this industry, that you can’t get something as simple as this implemented as they have in other states,” Arthur said. “This is a dollar-and-cents issue for practicing veterinarians, it’s as simple as that. I am a little bit frustrated after all this time, because we are revisiting things that we talked about years ago. And the silliness of all this, I just find disgusting.”
More than an hour before letting fly with his criticism of the “gamesmanship” that was obstructing passage of the rule, Arthur had led off discussion of the topic by emphasizing that he has personally administered some 50,000 Lasix shots in his career, and that the proposed CHRB rule is based on relatively successful third-party Lasix programs that have been implemented in Kentucky and New York during the three years it has taken the CHRB to hash out the same issue.
Chief among the reasons that states have been adopting third-party Lasix administration rules, several board members pointed out, is transparency. Vets with a business relationship with trainers–and thus a financial interest in how that trainer’s horses perform–should not be involved in giving shots of a commission-regulated medication.
“Administering Lasix is one of the easiest and most complication-free procedures done in racing,” Arthur said. “Any idea there is something professionally complicated or challenging about administering Lasix is nonsense…We are simply reducing temptation and opportunity for horses to receive something other than Lasix on raceday.”
Arthur pointed out that some backstretch vets have built an entire practice around the administration of Lasix. A loss of that revenue stream is one reason why some private vets are against the practice, he said.
After Arthur gave his initial presentation, the CHRB heard testimony from both vets and horsemen’s representatives, who, along with CHRB staffers and board members, brought up a litany of questions and possible alternatives to requiring third-party Lasix administration.
Among the questions asked were: Exactly who would be hired to give shots? Would vets be required to file request-for-proposal paperwork with the state to participate? Who would oversee the Lasix administration program? Would the board alternately consider allowing trainers’ private vets to administer Lasix under the supervision of a CHRB observer? How would the new rule affect the cost of Lasix shots? Are private vets being wrongly maligned as dishonest cheaters? Who would be liable for a horse if something went wrong while a third party administered the shot?
And finally, the item that led to a specific vote: Are all these details something that really should have been established at the committee level by the medication and safety panel?
At one point, it was emphasized that some general questions about the issue were being asked redundantly because of turnover on the CHRB board. Several of the commissioners were not appointees when the rule was first proposed in 2012.
And just prior to taking the vote, the issue devolved into confusion when it became apparent that several of the commissioners were unclear on exactly what they were voting on. One commissioner who seconded the motion to send it back to the committee ended up voting against doing so.
Near the end of the discussion, CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker stepped up to take some of the responsibility for the confusion that seemed to be paralyzing the board.
“Just from a staff standpoint, I would say that we haven’t done our prep work probably in the manner that we should have,” Baedeker said. “In retrospect, we probably should have taken this back to committee [prior to bringing it up for a full-board vote]. But that fact that it’s been discussed ad nauseum led us to just bring it directly to you. But I think I speak for staff in saying that when commissioners vote, they ought to vote on a clear understanding of what’s before them.”
Separately, the CHRB voted to approve adding cobalt to the CHRB Penalty Categories Listing by Classification, thereby establishing violation and penalty guidelines for the presence of cobalt in an official blood sample.
The board also passed an amendment to CHRB Board Rule 1887 (Trainer to Insure Condition of Horse) to make owners of a ship-in horse equally responsible for the condition of a horse.
More than five hours into the meeting, the CHRB was still debating 2016 dates allocations for the Northern and Southern California circuits. The full vote was not available in time for deadline for this story.