08/12/2001 11:00PM

Herbal feed tied to positives

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DEL MAR, Calif. - California Horse Racing Board investigators have asked 15 Southern California trainers to stop using an herbal feed supplement that might be the source of at least five recent positive tests for amphetamines, a board spokesman said Sunday.

The herbal feed supplement, known as Herbal Advantage, was distributed by Herbman Products of Manhattan Beach, Calif. The product was sold on the backstretch by Greg Long, a horse owner, according to trainers who used the product. According to two trainers, Long was not licensed by the board to sell products on the backstretch. Mike Marten, a board spokesman, would neither confirm nor deny that Long was licensed as a vendor.

"Investigators have asked 15 trainers who have purchased herbal products from an unlicensed vendor to voluntarily stop using that herbal product until its contents can be determined by UC-Davis," said Marten. Long was unavailable for comment. A phone number for Herbman Products was reported as disconnected, and the company's Web site was not working.

In the last month, CHRB investigators have notified at least five trainers that they had horses test positive for amphetamines. All five had used Herbal Advantage.

Marten declined to comment on whether additional trainers have been notified.

A second test, at labs chosen by the trainers, will be conducted to confirm the findings. If the second test is positive, a complaint may be filed against the trainers, which could lead to a loss of purse money and possible sanctions. If the second test is negative, the matter will be dropped.

Even though the product has reportedly been on the market for two years, the recent positives were found by ultrasensitive tests conducted at UC-Davis, two of the trainers involved said.

In the past, Marten said the board's equine medical director, Dr. Ron Jensen, has warned veterinarians and racing officials about such herbal products and feed supplements.

"Dr. Jensen has sent a memo to official vets for everyone to be aware of the contents of herbal products and supplements," Marten said.

Two horses were scratched by their trainers as a precaution Sunday because they had been given Herbal Advantage. Lexicon, trained by Richard Mandella, was withdrawn from the $150,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap, and Rafid, trained by John Sherriffs, was withdrawn from a maiden race on turf.

Mandella said he had no direct knowledge that Herbal Advantage was the cause of the recent amphetamine positives but said he was not taking any chances.

"I'm only afraid and withdrawing my horse," Mandella said.