01/10/2007 12:00AM

Mixed views on drug ideas


ARCADIA, Calif. - Proposals submitted Tuesday by the California Horse Racing Board's medication committee to strengthen penalties for some drug infractions, ban the use of anabolic steroids in racehorses, and enforce a 28-day withdrawal period of the breathing medication clenbuterol was met with mixed reactions on the Santa Anita backstretch on Wednesday.

The proposals regarding drug penalties and clenbuterol will be discussed at the racing board's monthly meeting on Jan. 23. The ban on anabolic steroids will be discussed further by the medication committee. Any rule change would take several months to enact, following a lengthy discussion period and review from the state's attorney general's office.

Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said the abolition of steroids and a longer withdrawal period for clenbuterol needs more discussion.

"Our board favors looking into testing and the use of clenbuterol," Halpern said. "Our hope is that this is a matter of discussion. We haven't come to a position on it."

He said the board for the trainers' group has not taken a position on steroid use. "I think it's premature to pass [a rule], but I think it's something that we'll look into," he said.

The proposal to ban steroids was supported by Steve Knapp, who won the training title at the 2005 Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, but was opposed by Bob Baffert. It is common for trainers to use steroids, and both Baffert and Knapp said they administer steroids to their horses.

Baffert said he would adapt if steroids are banned in California, but fears it will cripple California racing by eliminating the number of horses who are sent here from out of state, because rules in other jurisdictions may be different. Iowa is the only state that regulates the use of steroids.

"I could live without it, but how are people going to come to California?" Baffert said. "We give them steroids to help them eat and recuperate from a race. We need unity across the board."

The most popular steroids used on the backstretch are Winstrol V, a trade name for stanozolol, and Equipose, or boldenone. Both substances are banned for use by professional baseball and football players.

"If no one gives steroids, that will be fine," Knapp said. "But I think it helps build stronger racehorses. I'd only give the females Winstrol V and the guys Equipose. The Equipose is stronger."

Clenbuterol is used to aid horses with breathing problems, and is typically withdrawn from daily use approximately four days before a race, trainers say. An extension to a 28-day withdrawal period would essentially eliminate use of the medication.

"When horses get sick, it helps clear up lungs," Knapp said. "I withdraw at four days like we're supposed to. I use it on all horses."

Knapp said that steroids and clenbuterol are "two things that if you don't use, you'll be behind the eight ball" against rival stables.

A month's supply of clenbuterol for one horse costs $275, said Knapp, who trains 46 horses.

Baffert said he is opposed to the proposed elimination of steroids and a reduction in use of clenbuterol.

"It's hard to take something away," he said.

While rules changes for clenbuterol and steroids are likely to be debated extensively among horsemen, Halpern said that some proposed changes in penalties for drug infractions could benefit trainers.

Currently, the trainer-insurer rules leaves trainers at blame for any drug positives that are found in their starters. Such positives often result in fines, a suspension, or both. Among the changes being considered is to provide for "mitigating" or "aggravating" circumstances, which would allow stewards or the racing commission leeway in determining penalties for a drug positive.

Halpern said such mitigating circumstances could include how many times a trainer has been sanctioned, the legal availability of the drug in question, the trainer's record of administering the drug, steps taken by the trainer to safeguard horses in general, the purse of the race, the possibility of accidental contamination, and whether a trainer was acting on the advice of a licensed veterinarian.

"In most of the hearings, mitigating circumstances were not given much weight," Halpern said. "This is a basic fairness that should take place in hearings. A trainer can't control everything that happens."

Mitigating circumstances would not be considered for the redistribution of purses in the event of a positive test for medications listed in Classes 1, 2, or 3 - the medications most likely to affect performance.

According to the medication committee's proposals, penalties for drug infractions would be strengthened for repeat offenses by a trainer, and fines would be extended to owners and veterinarians in some cases.

San Rafael field looks compact

The preps to the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 7 begin in earnest with Saturday's $250,000 San Rafael Stakes over a mile.

A small field is expected, and it is likely to include Notional, who finished third in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes and sixth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity last fall, and Grapelli a smart-looking maiden winner at Hollywood Park on Dec. 3.

Other candidates include Black Hills, Half Famous, Malt Magic, Soldier and Tap It Light.

Also on Saturday is the $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes for 4-year-olds over 1 1/16 miles. Brother Derek, the winner of the 2006 Santa Anita Derby, will be opposed by Arson Squad, Midnight Lute, Sensational Score, and Spring at Last.