04/20/2007 12:00AM

California drug penalties toughen


California drug penalties toughen


ARCADIA, Calif. - Despite objections by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Horse Racing Board on Thursday approved regulations for stricter penalties against trainers, owners, and veterinarians for the most severe medication violations.

The new guidelines call for a one-year suspension for a trainer found responsible for a Category A violation, the most severe class, which includes medications that can affect performance but are not permitted for use in racehorses. A third offense of a Category A violation could result in a three-year suspension, a $25,000 fine, and possible further action from the racing board.

A veterinarian found to have administered a medication that causes a Category A violation would be referred to the California Veterinary Medical Board for potential sanctions and would not be allowed to practice at California racetracks.

An owner with a horse who has a Category A violation could be penalized by a loss of purse and a ban on racing their horse for up to 90 days for a first offense, and a loss of purse, a $50,000 fine, and a 180-day ban on starting the horse for a third offense.

The rule changes, expected to take effect by the end of the summer following approval from state government, would also give stewards and administrative law judges more leeway in issuing penalties. Trainers, who under the current trainer-insurer rule are responsible for almost all medication violations, can claim "mitigating" circumstances under the new guidelines, and those ruling on the case can choose to lessen or eliminate sanctions. Conversely, if "aggravating" factors are discovered, a trainer could face a more severe penalty.

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 his horses, the possibility of accidental contamination, and whether a trainer has acted on the advice of a licensed veterinarian.

Officials of the Thoroughbred Owners of California said they were opposed to the new regulations, fearing that tougher rules for drug violations would discourage owners from other states from sending horses to California.

"There was great concern among owners," the group's president, Marsha Naify, told the racing board.

The racing board's chairman, Richard Shapiro, sharply disputed that the regulations would drive away owners.

"There are no fines to owners for first or second offenses," he said. "We do things better than other states. We have a higher standard out here. California has the most level playing field. This sends the message that the integrity of the game is protected."

The penalty guidelines are patterned after rules suggested by the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.