02/15/2007 12:00AM

California adopts random drug tests


The California Horse Racing Board advised owners and trainers on Thursday that Thoroughbreds in the state would be subject to random drug tests designed to detect the illegal blood-doping agents erythropoietin and darbepoietin, effective immediately.

The program, which is known as out-of-competition testing, will allow CHRB officials to take blood samples from Thoroughbred horses who are stabled at licensed racetracks and training facilities around the state, whether the horses are entered to race or not. Board officials, however, will not be able to collect samples from horses on private property.

Mike Marten, a spokesman for the board, said that the finding of a positive during out-of-competition testing would result in the board seeking penalties against the trainer.

Out-of-competition testing is favored by many drug-enforcement agencies in horse racing in order to detect blood-doping agents, which are typically used well in advance of a race in order to stimulate a horse's ability to produce oxygen-carrying red blood cells and build endurance. The use of erythropoietin, which is commonly known as EPO, and its synthetic cousin, darbepoietin, has been the subject of backstretch talk for several years, and prosecutors in New Jersey recently obtained guilty pleas from several leading harness trainers for possession of the drug.

Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said Thursday that the advisory had "caught him a bit off guard," but that the vast majority of trainers would not object to the program as long as the sampling was random.

"Most trainers want a level playing field, so they don't have a problem with this," Halpern said. "The only complaints I do receive are by guys who say they fear they are going to be targeted. As long as it's completely random, I don't think anyone will object."

Dr. Rick Arthur, the CHRB's equine medical director, said that a new technique developed last year by chemists at the University of Pennsylvania will be used to confirm positives. Before the new technique, regulators had been reluctant to seek penalties for blood-doping positive because the results were not considered strong enough to stand up in court.