01/24/2007 1:00AM

California board acts on drug rules

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board has given tentative approval to a rule change that will strengthen penalties for medication violations, including the banning of horses and the fining of owners. For repeat violations of the most severe offenses, horses can be banned for up to 180 days.

The policy change was approved at Tuesday's monthly meeting, and must undergo a 45-day public comment period followed by review from the state's attorney general's office. Following those steps, the board would then vote on the matter again, probably in the spring. Any policy change would take effect later this year.

In addition, the board approved a rule change to reclassify all but four anabolic steroids, allowing regulators to assess harsher penalties for positive tests. The steroids that were not reclassified are boldenone, nandrolone, stanozolol, and testosterone.

Along with stronger penalties for medication violations, the new rule change would give stewards and administrative law judges more leeway in meting out those penalties. Trainers, which under the current trainer-insurer rule are responsible for almost all medication violations, can claim "mitigating" circumstances. On the other hand, if "aggravating factors" are discovered, a trainer could be punished more harshly.

Mitigating circumstances could include how many times a trainer has been sanctioned, whether the drug in question is legal, steps taken by the trainer to safeguard horses in general, the possibility of accidental contamination, and whether a trainer acted on the advice of a licensed veterinarian.

Under the new guidelines, penalties for Class A violations, the most severe category, would be a suspension of up to three years and a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offense. In the event of a third offense, trainers would be suspended for three years or face permanent license revocation.

Owners with horses who have Class A violations would be penalized by a loss of purse and a ban on a horse starting for up to 90 days for a first offense, to a loss of purse, a $50,000 fine, and a 180-day ban on a horse starting for a third offense.