12/05/2003 12:00AM

Calif. panel to examine security on backstretch


LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board on Thursday announced that a committee will be formed to consider ways to enhance backstretch security to eliminate a perception of cheating among Southern California trainers. Some of the more drastic measures being considered are the implementation of dedicated security stalls in each barn or a detention barn to house all runners on race days.

The issue has been widely debated by horsemen in recent months. A petition signed by more than 80 trainers was recently presented to racing officials calling for enhanced security measures as a way to offset a perception of the use of illicit drugs.

The committee members will be named by Wednesday, chairman Roger Licht said. The members will include owners, trainers, and track executives.

"We all agree there is a perception problem," Licht said. "Whether there is in fact a problem in reality, we must each determine for ourselves. But we should do all that we can to improve the perception that horse racing is a fair game."

Ed Halpern, the executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers, said trainers are calling for an extensive list of changes, including increased surveillance in the stable area by CHRB personnel, unannounced visits to stables before post times, additional drug testing, extensive use of closed-circuit cameras, and secured stalls in each barn, or a detention barn.

He also called on the CHRB to freeze blood samples for a longer period of time so that samples can be tested for drugs that cannot currently be detected.

"I have no evidence that any illegal acts have taken place," Halpern said. "Those that are closest to the scene perceive there is a problem and believe it is time for the CHRB to commit to a more aggressive position."

Halpern said the race-day detention barn is not a popular option among horsemen. Trainers have said they do not want to disrupt a horse's routine by moving it to another stable. Halpern described detention stalls in each barn as a "middle ground that could overcome the many objectives."

Trainer Vladimir Cerin, who circulated the petition this fall, called for increased surveillance through additional cameras in shed rows.

"I would say put those cameras in and review the tapes of the winners," Cerin said. "I think we can restore confidence in our sport."

* At the end of the meeting, owner-breeder John Harris was elected board chairman for 2004, replacing Licht. Harris owns the prominent Harris Ranch in Coalinga, Calif. Sheryl Granzella was elected vice chairman. She has served on the board since October 1999.