01/20/2005 1:00AM

Milkshake testing approved by CHRB


ARCADIA, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board on Thursday unanimously approved a rule allowing for the testing of alkalizing agents, the key ingredient in a milkshake, but the state will not yet begin testing because a concurrent change in state law has yet to be passed.

The rule, which was approved by a 6-0 vote - commissioner John Sperry was absent - will allow for state-sanctioned prerace testing specifically for milkshakes. However, since the carbon dioxide needed for testing in a sample dissipates quickly, subsequent split-sample testing is impractical. All other testing in the state requires for split samples to confirm a positive. Since that is being waived for milkshake testing, a change in state law is required. A bill in the state Assembly has yet to be heard, but it is expected to pass.

"We can't forward [the rule] to the office of administrative law until the law passes, and then it's another 30 days until it's approved," said Roy Minami of the racing board's staff.

"I hate to see this drag on and on and on," said board chairman John Harris, who implored the board staff to try to expedite the process.

Commissioner Marie Moretti said the process will "probably take a couple more months."

Regardless, the passage of the rule marked a significant step in a debate that has raged for well over one year. A sense of urgency over apparent milkshaking began last summer, when there was a spike in positives detected by testing paid for by Del Mar.

The data suggest "there is some excessive use of alkalizing agents being done," according to Dr. Ron Jensen, the board's equine medical director.

In the meantime, until the rule is enacted, tracks such as Santa Anita will continue to pay for milkshake testing and mete out penalties under house rules. The state rule, once enacted, will allow for loss of purse by the horse's owner, plus a fine and/or suspension for the horse's trainer.

There was no opposition from the board, nor from speakers, to the core issue of testing for milkshakes. The lack of split-sample testing caused several speakers to urge the board to use the most sophisticated equipment and laboratory. The University of California at Davis has been doing the current testing paid for by the tracks.

"We strongly support the implementation of the rule, and we support vigorous lab standards," said Ed Halpern of California Thoroughbred Trainers. "We're all anxious to get this in place. You should make part of the rule that testing is at UC-Davis only, at this time."

The board has not released the names of trainers whose horses have allegedly tested positive for milkshakes. One trainer who admitted to being informed of an alleged positive, Mike Mitchell, earlier this week said he wanted all of the names to be released.

"I feel that if it came out, the number of high tests, it would show that the test is not as sound as many people think it is," Mitchell said. "I think it's a bad test that's not done properly."

Mitchell said his barn was under surveillance last fall after an alleged positive. While under surveillance, he said, he won with 13 of 30 starters (43 percent) at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Another trainer who has admitted to being informed of an alleged positive, Jeff Mullins, went through a slump last fall after many of his better horses were injured, but he has rebounded at this winter's Santa Anita meeting, with eight wins from 25 starts (32 percent) since the start of the season on Dec. 26.