By T. D. Thornton
In 2014, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) was ahead of the regulatory pack in terms of crafting rules that required the microchipping of racehorses for identification purposes.
However, as a Dec. 26, 2018, effective date loomed for the ambitious plan, regulators and track officials realized there might be adverse practical implications on the horizon because not every racehorse in the state had a microchip implanted.
In addition, some of the rule language that seemed solid when first adopted now seemed problematic to board members.
As a result, the CHRB voted unanimously at its Thursday meeting to suspend the implementation of four microchip-related rules. The board then unanimously voted in proposed amended rules with new language, which must go through a mandatory 45-day public commentary period before they can be voted into place for good.
The areas of concern centered on:
1) Horses needing to have a microchip as a requirement of entry in a race. A more practical workaround, the CHRB decided, would be to allow horses to be entered, then in the interim before race day, be fitted with a chip prior to racing. A horse could still be scratched if it didn't get a chip in time.
2) The initial version of the rule gave stewards the ability to grant a waiver for non-chipped shippers for stakes races only. The CHRB instead opted to allow for a one-time waiver, regardless of what type of race the horse would be running in.
3) The track identifier–and not the stewards–will become the officially mandated point-person at each track for microchipping. Previous rule language included both entities.
“California was very aggressive with microchipping,” said commissioner Madeline Auerbach. “We went into a pilot program with The Jockey Club originally, and we felt we could get this accomplished in this time frame. And as most of us know when we're working with government protocols and procedures, sometimes it takes forever to get things done….So this is just our way of saying, “Okay, we didn't do this correctly. Let's back up before we have a problem, and fix it.”
Or, as CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker put it, “We realized that this [set of rules] was cumbersome, and the purpose of this was never to compromise the entry box.”
Baedeker added that “when we were rapidly approaching the deadline of Dec. 26, we found that we had 95% of Thoroughbreds covered throughout the state. We only had about 80% of Quarter Horses covered. And we faced an imminent situation where horses would not be allowed to enter races” without the microchips.
“At this point, we believe it's in the best interest of the sport to get it right,” Baedeker explained to board members. “We don't think these changes will take as long as some might going through the entire regulatory process. So when they come back [from the public commentary period], and if you adopt them, we think we're going to have a much better set of rules.
“But in the meantime,” Baedeker concluded, “let's just admit the fact that we couldn't quite get the whole population chipped, and, as a matter of fact, in our opinion, some of the rules were flawed.”