01/25/2008 12:00AM

California owners want stricter rules

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Almost three months ago, the Sales Integrity Task Force issued final recommendations supporting voluntary industry regulation, rather than state regulation, of steroids, agents' conduct, and medication and ownership disclosure at bloodstock sales. Now, some Thoroughbred owners say the task force didn't go far enough and are calling on it and auction houses to adopt stricter, mandatory disclosure policies and to support licensing of bloodstock agents and consignors.

In a letter sent to the SITF and the nation's major auction houses, the Thoroughbred Owners of California said, "The lack of mandatory requirements for full disclosure is a key shortcoming of the task force's recommendations."

TOC would like to see mandatory disclosure of sale horses' ownership and veterinary records. In November, the SITF recommended to Kentucky's legislature that such disclosure be voluntary, but TOC chairman Marsha Naify said, "A voluntary policy simply is not enough. Consequently, a mandatory disclosure policy is required to address questionable bidding tactics that artificially inflate sales values and undermine the integrity of auctions."

TOC also said it "intends to pursue the regulatory changes necessary to license consignors with the California Horse Racing Board."

Bloodstock agents are already licensed in California but not in other major racing, breeding, and sales jurisdictions such as Kentucky, New York, and Florida. The SITF's 36-member task force largely opposed licensing in favor of self-regulation, with the main dissent coming from Thoroughbred owner Jess Jackson. Jackson has lobbied for licensing as part of his proposed reforms to bloodstock sales.

TOC also called for banning exogenous steroids in all sale horses within 45 days of a sale, a move that major sale companies are moving toward. Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland, Barretts, and the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. all have said they will begin testing for steroids in 2008, though only OBS so far has committed to testing at its juvenile sales this year.

TOC's recommendations are unlikely to result in a change in the SITF's policy proposals.

"We've looked at these areas almost to the point of exhaustion," said Dan Metzger, president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which convened the SITF. "We've looked at them through a legal eye, the governmental perspective, and the practical point of view. A near-unanimous, overwhelming majority with representatives from the world's leading owners, buyers, and sellers felt this was the proper way to go at this time."

Metzger said the task force could amend its recommendations later and was within a week of putting together a monitoring committee that can suggest policy changes. But he added that he didn't expect the SITF to reconvene to discuss the points in TOC's letter.

Thoroughbred owner Earle Mack, who has pushed Florida government officials to implement similar reforms at horse auctions, offered "strong support" for the TOC proposals in a statement issued Wednesday.

"On many issues, both owners and breeders are of one mind, and with such issues the TOBA plays a critical role in our industry," he said. "When it comes to horse sales, however, the simple distinction in many cases is racehorse owners are buyers and breeders are sellers. It isn't that one side is right and the other side is wrong, we just need to recognize that in this context the two groups may have differing interests.

"Full disclosure and transparency in sales is something every industry is moving to adopt, and we in the Thoroughbred industry need to be proactive in bringing it about as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on Friday proposed rules for bloodstock sales that were similar to those recommended by the SITF. The rules ban undisclosed dual agency - a practice in which a single agent represents both buyer and seller in a transaction - and require a written bill of sale or auction receipt and a way for a buyer to obtain a horse's veterinary information. But they do not require ownership disclosure, because, as the proposal's wording put it, nondisclosure "would not create . . . deceptive or unfair trade practices."

The Florida rules did not address steroids or testing because the panel believed those issues were beyond the mandate set for it by Gov. Charles Crist. The department also cited the need for Florida's legislature "to appropriate funding for drug testing, chain of command tests, costs of tests, staff, and laboratory to provide results of tests" as another reason it did not address drug and steroid testing.

In another sign that buyers want to keep integrity and transparency issues on the front burner, Mack called the proposed rules, which are now in a 21-day comment period before final approval, "a good first step" and pledged to "work with the agency on the next steps to ensure the goal of transparency, so as to eliminate deceptive and unfair practices."

* Ascot Knight, perennially among Canada's leading sires, has been pensioned by Windfields Farm in Ontario due to declining health. The 24-year-old Danzig horse has sired 32 stakes winners and the earners of more than $28 million, including such standouts as Canadian champion Pennyhill Park, dual Grade 1 winner Influent, multiple graded winner Hey Hazel, and Canadian Oaks winner Plenty of Sugar.

* Coolmore Stud has sold shuttle stallion Monashee Mountain privately to the Australian stud farm Racetree in Queensland, according Australian Breeding and Racing magazine. Coolmore has retained an option on the Danzig horse's Northern Hemisphere breeding rights. Monashee Mountain will stand at Racetree for an Aus$11,100 fee, or about US$9,770.