02/17/2011 8:41PM

California Horse Racing Board proposes lower phenylbutazone levels

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ARCADIA, Calif. – The permitted level of the commonly used medication phenylbutazone will be lowered in California this year, if a proposed rule amendment is approved by the California Horse Racing Board.

At Thursday’s monthly meeting, the racing board voted unanimously, 6-0, to begin a 45-day public comment period on the proposed reduction. In advance of the vote, a 40-minute debate revealed opposition to the proposal from horsemen’s organizations but support from racing board equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur.

Currently, bute, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, is allowed in levels up to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. That would drop to 2 nanograms under the proposed rule change.

In addition, the permitted level of Flunixin, an anti-inflammatory more commonly known as banamine, would drop from 50 nanograms to 20 nanograms.

Most of Thursday’s debate centered on the permitted level of bute. Arthur argued that lower levels will give veterinarians who make pre-race examinations a better indication of a horse’s soundness.

“Examining vets have expressed concern that current medication [levels] compromises their ability to properly evaluate soundness,” Arthur told the board. “This would help exam vets do a good job and detect horses with risk.”

He said that the American Graded Stakes Committee has enacted a policy to lower bute levels to 2 nanograms for such races to be recognized beginning January 2012.

According to documents presented at the racing board meeting, 85 percent of the horses tested in the first three weeks of the current Santa Anita meeting that began Dec. 26 had bute levels below 2 nanograms.

John Sadler, the prominent trainer and president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers organization, said a potential rule change could be detrimental to field size.

“We’re painfully thin with horses right now,” he said. “If we reach for more regulation, we’ll have less horses. We think we have a good rule here in California. It’s a good therapeutic medication. We think this is a stretch, and it has very little support among the horsemen.”

After the meeting, Sadler argued that the fact that 85 percent of the horses tested earlier at the Santa Anita had levels below 2 nanograms shows there is no need for further regulation.

If passed by the racing board, the rule would not be enacted until the summer, at the earliest. Following the public comment period, the issue could reach a vote at the racing board’s April or May meetings. If approved, the rule faces legal review from the state office of administrative law within 30 days of the racing board vote before being enacted.

Hollywood, Fairplex fall dates confirmed

Racing dates for Fairplex Park and Hollywood Park for the final four months of the year were confirmed at Thursday’s meeting.

Fairplex Park will run a 15-day meeting from Sept. 8-26. Hollywood Park will run a six-week fall meeting from Nov. 9 to Dec. 18. The number of racing dates at the Hollywood Park meeting was not discussed.

In between those seasons, Santa Anita will host a six-week fall meeting through its subsidiary, the Pacific Racing Association, from Sept. 28 to Nov. 6. The dates were historically operated by the Oak Tree Racing Association at Santa Anita, but that organization sought to operate a fall meeting at Hollywood Park, similar to 2010.

The racing board voted 6-0 for racing to be held at Santa Anita this fall. Oak Tree had operated its meeting at Santa Anita from 1969 to 2009.

At Thursday’s meeting, Santa Anita officials indicated that they will work with Oak Tree on a financial arrangement allowing Oak Tree, a not-for-profit organization, to continue contributing to various organizations affiliated with the sport, even though it will not manage a race meeting. The proposed arrangement would include terms allowing Santa Anita to run the well-known Breeders’ Cup stakes preps run during the Oak Tree meeting in past years.