10/02/2005 11:00PM

Cal board finally taking over milkshake testing

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The California Horse Racing Board is hoping finally to take over testing for illegal alkalizing agents on Wednesday, putting an end to a voluntary program in which racetracks conducted the tests and enforced limited penalties against violators, a spokesman for the board said Monday.

The board had expected to take over the testing last week with the start of the Oak Tree meeting, according the spokesman, Mike Marten, but was delayed while officials hammered out new procedures for collecting blood samples from horses and providing owners and trainers with a means to have the samples tested by different laboratories.

Details of the new procedures were provided to the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers early last week. The groups were given a deadline of late Monday afternoon to file any objections. If the groups did not object, the new rules were to take effect on Wednesday, the next racing day in California.

Total carbon dioxide testing for alkalizing agents, which are commonly known as milkshakes, began late last year after results from a confidential series of tests indicated that 20 percent of the horses running during a 10-day period at Del Mar in 2004 had alkalizing agents in their system. The testing was paid for and overseen by racetracks under a so-called house rule. Alkalizing agents are believed to help delay the onset of fatigue in horses who are racing.

The board was initially unable to provide testing because of a law that required a split blood sample for all drug tests. This year, the California legislature passed a law waiving that requirement for total carbon dioxide testing - the telltale measure of alkalizing agents - because the level of carbon dioxide in blood dissipates quickly over a 72-hour period. Typically a split of a blood sample is frozen, but that is ineffective for carbon dioxide testing.

Under new rules adopted by the board, trainers will still have the option for a split of the blood sample to be tested. But trainers will need to fill out a form at the time of entry to send the split to laboratories at either Iowa State University or the Ohio State University. UC-Davis will continue to conduct all primary drug tests.

Any trainer electing to have a split sample tested will need to pay $165 on the day of the race to pay for shipping, handling, and testing of the split sample, Marten said.

"The onus is on the trainer," Marten said.

The new rules will allow the board to suspend and fine violators, penalties that racetracks are not able to issue. Under a house rule, racetracks required trainers whose horses tested positive for alkalizing agents to send their horses to a security barn on the days they were entered to race for a 30-day period - a penalty that some people criticized for being too lenient.

The new rules will make alkalizing agents a Class 3 substance. Under California rules, any horse testing positive for a Class 3 substance must be disqualified from a race with the purse redistributed. Stewards will determine fines and suspensions.

Marten said that the board plans to test every horse on every race day for alkalizing agents, at least in the initial phases of the program. Samples will be drawn at the receiving barn before a race.

The testing will likely be scaled down in the future so that fewer horses are tested each day, with horses selected at the discretion of the stewards. But for now, Marten said, the board has not determined when that day will come.

"The idea is to be unpredictable," Marten said.