California Bill Targeting Equine Medical Director Dies Necessary Death

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Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director, CHRB Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director, CHRB

Received an email the other day from a service of California’s state government that tracks pending legislation. It said simply:

“AB-1154: Horse racing: equine drug testing: equine medical director. On 31-JAN-14 the following history action was applied: Died pursuant to Art. IV, Sec. 10(c) of the Constitution.”

And so ended one of the more shameful chapters of California horse racing history. Assembly Bill 1154 was an effort by individuals on the board of Thoroughbred Owners of California to remove Dr. Rick Arthur from his job as equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board and impose two-year limits for future equine veterinary professionals hired for that job.

No one ever publicly said why this “Bring me the head of Rick Arthur” legislation was introduced, but it’s pretty clear that it’s because of Arthur’s public pronouncements against the race-day use of Lasix.


The bill was filed in February 2013 by Assemblyman Adam Gray, who was elected to his first term only a few months earlier. Gray had been a legislative aide to Dennis Cardoza, a former U.S. Congressman and California lawmaker who was a member of the Thoroughbred Owners of California board of directors.

Under chairman Mike Pegram, the TOC board in early 2013 was acting in such a peculiar way that Lou Raffetto, Pegram’s longtime friend and a knowledgeable industry professional, abruptly stepped down as president.

The TOC, at its January 2013 board meeting, voted against their own veterinary representative’s recommendation that the organization continue funding the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a national organization working collaboratively with horsemen’s organizations throughout North America to develop uniform medication rules, penalties and guidelines. Those guidelines call for longer withdrawal times of many therapeutic medications but allow for the continued race-day use of the anti-bleeding drug Lasix, provided it is administered by a third-party veterinarian.

Board member Madeline Auerbach moved for the TOC to discontinue its funding ($24,000 per year) of the RMTC. The motion, seconded by trainer Bob Baffert, passed unanimously. Auerbach, incidentally, was recently appointed to the California Horse Racing Board and, as a result, stepped down from the TOC board. Apparently the TOC, despite a preponderance of public statements to the contrary, believed the RMTC wanted to eliminate Lasix.

TOC leaders were so concerned about losing the use of the drug they sanctioned an “educational” seminar at which horse owner Gary West said racing without Lasix was “cruel and inhumane” and like “waterboarding your horses in their own blood.”

West would later threaten to sue the Breeders’ Cup over its anti-Lasix policy, and, in the ultimate irony, won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with New Year’s Day, who raced without the drug under the rules then in place.

Something happened, though, between the time of the January 2013 TOC board meeting and the February meeting.

According to board minutes, “Mr. Pegram explained that, although the board voted at its last meeting not to fund the RMTC, since that time information has come to light regarding the fact that RMTC is pro-Lasix. Based on the fact that board members have come to him saying they did not realize RMTC is pro-Lasix, a re-vote is (sic) be called for.”

The minutes didn’t say what information “came to light.” Perhaps someone Googled “RMTC” and “Lasix” and found one of numerous online references to RMTC’s official position supporting the continued use of the drug.

This vote passed with only two trainers on the board (John Sadler and Mike Harrington) holding out against funding the RMTC.

A short time later, AB-1154 was introduced to get rid of Rick Arthur.

In March 2013, the TOC voted unanimously to send a letter to Breeders’ Cup officials saying “California is not interested in hosting the 2014 Breeders’ Cup if Lasix is not allowed for all races.” The letter prompted the Breeders’ Cup board to back down from its previous position to eliminate all race-day medications by 2014 and effectively killed the movement for the United States to adopt drug rules similar to those in place throughout the world.

Meanwhile, Arthur continued to speak out in practical terms about the use of Lasix. At the annual convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners in December, Arthur was on a panel discussing “Current Controversies in Equine Practice.”

JAVMA News, an official publication of the American Veterinary Medical Association, quoted Arthur as saying: “The international racing industry doesn’t use Lasix (to race), and their horses are every bit as healthy as ours. And I think that’s where we’re going to be. … I think that’s what the public will be demanding, and I think we need to prepare for it.”

Then there is the matter of an online video in which Arthur says there is “no question Lasix is a performance enhancer” and that horses “can race in the U.S.” without Lasix. “But,” Arthur said, “we’ve raised a generation of horsemen that don’t know how to race horses or train horses any other way.”

That’s not exactly the kind of statement that’s going to endear Arthur to Thoroughbred trainers and many of their owners. It is, however, what they need to hear.

The California legislation died, in part, because it was … well … stupid. A committee’s analysis of the bill said a search committee would spend upwards of $300,000 every two years to find someone qualified and willing to take the job. That’s certainly not the best use of the state’s or the CHRB’s money.

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  • FIVE2_THREE

    Why has this man faced such affliction because of his beliefs ? and why does Bafferts’ name always appear in almost every underhanded issue in California ?

    • Birdy2

      The answer to your second question? Because he’s involved, that’s why.

    • Trey

      The answer to your second question. Because Ray Paulick has a vendetta.

  • Ben van den Brink

    As the tests, taken and examined after the BC races, last yr clearly demonstrated an bleeder will stay a bleeder, no matter the amount of lasix in the best case. But in the most cases bleeders will become worser bleeders. The Wests best horse ran without the stuff bdw

    • Tinky

      This:

      “But in the most cases bleeders will become worser bleeders.”

      is utterly unsupportable. If it were the case, then the older horse divisions in Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, NZ. etc. would be devastated. Not only is that NOT the case, but those divisions are arguably more robust in countries that do not use Lasix than they are in the U.S.

      The reason that “bleeders” often become worse bleeders in the U.S. is because such horses are immediately put on Lasix and, with relatively rare exceptions, rushed back into competition. Those who train and race in the majority of the world’s jurisdiction are much more sensitive to the value of allowing a horse that has suffered a serious bleeding incident to heal naturally over time.

      • Ben van den Brink

        Maybe I have expressed myself wrong, Horses which are proned to bleed,should be rested a couple off months and tried again. When they are still proned to be bleeders ( already to find out in training) just cull them instead off putting them under medications, which are not even alliviate the ailment.

        • Tinky

          There are essentially two subsets of Thoroughbred: bad bleeders, and all of the rest. The former category is very small, and I certainly agree that such horses should be retired quickly and (ideally) culled from the breeding pool. The latter category is comprised by the vast majority of racehorses. It is true that a high percentage of that group is likely to experience at least one minor bleeding episode at some point, but the weakness is obviously manageable without Lasix, given common sense and good horsemanship.

          • takethat

            “but the weakness is obviously manageable without Lasix, given common sense and good horsemanship”

            Indeed. But both require time & effort that the ‘equine cost accountants’ ,who call themselves ‘horsemen’, are not willing to give. They just want more horses in their barn and Lasix use is crucial in allowing them to attain that goal.

          • Tinky

            True. And, as Arthur touched on in Ray’s quote, American trainers are, for the most part, terrified to let go of the Lasix crutch as they’ve never plied their trade without it.

          • Mimi Hunter

            I agree. And I’ll add that many of the current day trainers have forgotten how to keep a horse sound of ‘wind and limb’. It takes a lot more work than just giving a shot and keeping the fingers crossed that it works this time, too.

  • Ben van den Brink

    Because Bafferts clients do have an lot influence in the horse and outside the horse industry.

    • FIVE2_THREE

      If He has risen to the point to where He can influence racing policy, then the train has really come off the track in California.

  • Jay

    In addition to this, Dennis Cardoza owns horses with Mike Pegram. Can you spell CONFLICT?

    • Betterthannothing

      What conflicts, red flags, abuse (and worse)? It’s LA LA Land and Baffert Inc. owns it!

    • Barry Irwin

      The CHRB has been the home of conflict of interest for decades. One would have to go back to a time when Jerry Brown was the governor the first time around and Gray Davis was his Lt. Governor. Before Davis was bought lock, stock and barrel by the Indians, the CHRB was a model transparency and action. Jerry Brown in his present day format apparently does not give a hoot about the board or racing. What a shame.

      • Jay

        Barry, I was referring to those members of the TOC board that were trying to oust Dr. Arthur. There is neither time nor space to address the shortcomings of the CHRB.

  • RAS

    Baffert and Pegram now have added Auerbach to the CHRB.

    Give it 5 years and the CHRB will be all TOC cronies, if in 5 yrs there is still racing in So Cal.

  • pbchi

    As a newish owner with parts or all of 8 horses, I am increasingly put off by the continuous evidence of, at best ignorant and harmful practices and misinformation, and at worst, overt and continuing criminality in the “industry”. Mr Baffert’s supplements ( thyroid hormone) most likely resulted in the death of seven horses and nothing happens. Gives me great pause in further participation. I would not participate in California now but I am not convinced yet that its much better in other vneues.

    • Tonto

      Be sure to get itemized bills from your trainer and exactly what was given your horse -when and why and what results were expected. Then find the vet and ask him the same questions.

    • Denis Coakley

      Race in Ireland and you can be certain that it is clean with no race-day medication and all winners automatically tested.

  • Flag Is Up

    Then there is the matter of an online video in which Arthur says there is “no question Lasix is a performance enhancer” and that horses “can race in the U.S.” without Lasix. “But,” Arthur said, “we’ve raised a generation of horsemen that don’t know how to race horses or train horses any other way.”

    Is there any evidence that this was Dr. Arthur’s position when he was a practicing veterinarian and charging for pre race & pre workout lasix as well as charging for scoping of the horses in his care? I’d be willing to wager a fairly large sum of money that he was using lasix pretty freely when he had a practice. I sure do remember that the barns he was in at the time ran with plenty of horses using lasix.

    • Barry Irwin

      Have you ever considered the notion that people evolve and do not stay the same? By the way, have you always gone by the name of “Flag Is Up?” I doubt it.

      • Flag Is Up

        Perhaps Dr. Arthur has evolved or perhaps his opinion depends on what side of the bread is buttered.

        When he was a prating veterinarian in California I’m pretty sure his barns were running and working with the aid of lasix. At that time it wasn’t in his best interest to stand up and be opposed to using the drug. I agree that the drug is WAY overused and likely harmful when used as much as it is but I have always taken that stance and it isn’t based on monetary issues.

        • Barry Irwin

          Since you know so much, why is it that you don’t realize vets hate to bother with Lasix because it doesn’t generate much income and takes up a lot of time in terms of logistics? Your characterization of Dr. Arthur as a money grubbing hypocrite falls well short of the mark, as he is totally well respected by most participants in the industry outside of those that can be found out by him as cheaters. How anybody can put the knock on this guy is beyond me. Someday, hopefully in the not too distant future, people that anonymously write disparaging comments will be barred from doing so. When that day finally arrives, I wonder if you will write so nastily about people like Rick Arthur.

          • Flag Is Up

            Not trying to get in a pissing match with you, which always seems to be your agenda.

            What I wrote was neither nasty or disparaging! What I wrote was fact that when he was a practicing veterinarian his barns ran as many horses on lasix as everyone else. If he believed then that the drug was harmful he sure didn’t voice that opinion!

            And let me give you a clue: Dr. Arthur has steadily been losing fans here in California! His recent stance on the deaths in Mr. Baffert’s barn is a prime example of that.

          • RayPaulick

            Please explain, what is Dr. Arthur’s “stance on the deaths” in the Baffert barn?

          • Flag Is Up

            Judging by the comments posted here as well as in many newspapers his stance is that Baffert and his staff had no hand in the deaths of the seven horses.
            Example:

            “There is no evidence of anyone doing anything wrong with any of these horses,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the CHRB, as he reviewed a document, “Report on the investigation and review of the seven sudden deaths on the Hollywood Park main track of horses trained by Bob Baffert and stabled in Barn 61.”

            Question for you, if the trainer involved was say Jeff Mullins do you think this would be over? Seven of twenty horses or 35% of the horses dying of sudden death coming from one barn and virtually the entire barn being on a thyroid medication for no apparent reason. So many people believe, and very possibly correctly, that lasix is used to mask other medications that are given. Is it possible that thyroxine may do the same thing or is other medication damaging the thyroid so much so that a supplement is needed?

          • RayPaulick

            So when there is no evidence to support a rules violation – as opposed, for example, to a TCO2 test above the allowable limit – you want the equine medical director to do what exactly?

          • Flag Is Up

            Can’t honestly say what I would expect him to do.

            What about my thought about whether this would be a closed case if the trainer involved was Jeff Mullins? I’m pretty sure that if this involved Jeff that Dr. Arthur wouldn’t be done with it!

            I’m not a fan of Dr. Arthur’s but it’s because in my opinion he hasn’t dealt with all trainers on an equal and fair basis. In my opinion he has trainers that he’d like to hang out to dry and others that he’ll go to bat for. Some of this stems from when he had a practice on the Southern California circuit. Personally I feel that he carries a bias from his former days and has shown that with past decisions.

            I’m done as this is more than I’ve posted since I’ve been here and have no more to add.

          • Ben van den Brink

            The fact that there is no proof of wrong dooiing, does not mean that nothing has happend.
            An overkill of legal medications for instances that ruines the kidneys, liver and heart.
            Seen the threatnings by TOC members and the proposed change of the medical director ( which went off), climate is very poluted in CAL.
            IMHO

          • Birdy2

            I think, Ray, that many people don’t understand the difference between a rules violation and something that’s not against the rules but is just plain wrong. They don’t understand that our pathetic medication rules are to protect the betting public, not to protect the horses. Rick Arthur could have worded his release on the Baffert horse deaths a bit better, but I’m guessing he figured that everybody who read what he wrote would understand what “no wrongdoing” meant ‘no violation of the rules.’

          • betterthannothing

            “They don’t understand that our pathetic medication rules are to protect the betting public, not to protect the horses.”

            Linda, excellent point! The saddest, craziest and most painful thing to watch is how money and control always come before the welfare of horses and the price horses and the entire industry pay, as a result. When Dr. Arthur creates waves within the CA TB racing cartel territory by wanting to put horses and integrity above money and control –even if safety and integrity would be healthiest for athletes and the overall business of racing– the local kingpins will try to eliminate him.

          • Barry Irwin

            How can you use the word fact when you are dealing in innuendo? And step back, as I don’t want the splash back to moisten your keyboard, as you might have an electrical shortage.

          • Flag Is Up

            Perhaps I’m much older than you because I remember the old days when vets took their own x-rays at the barn and when the use of lasix was started it was a revenue generator because along with the shot there also came the scoping. Even today many horses are routinely scoped after races and works and that’s not free.

            Years ago a horse occasionally had a knee or ankle injected. Today it’s knees, ankles, stifles, hocks, coffin joints and navicular bursas.

            I’ve seen your act before both here and on TV and really have no interest in you. I wish there was an ignore option here because I’d like to use that with you. I’m sure the feeling is mutual so let’s just go our separate ways.

          • Barry Irwin

            Good idea. BTW, in going your separate way, don’t plan on flying, unless your I. D. reads “Flag Is Up,” because those guys demand your identity.

          • Denise Steffanus

            According to the rules of racing in California (and Kentucky), a horse can be put on Lasix if the trainer and/or a licensed veterinarian believes it is in the horse’s best interest. This means that the horse does not need to be scoped to prove that it bleeds and, therefore, would benefit from Lasix. Under today’s rules, a horse can race on Lasix, even if it does not need it.

            The first step racing commissions need to make is to revive the rule that was in effect when Lasix was first allowed in the 1960s–that a horse had to be confirmed as a bleeder via scoping in order to be permitted to race on Lasix.

    • RayPaulick

      I’m going to jump in here with a comment. For the purposes of this story, I did not use the quote “good for the horse, bad for horseracing,” which I’ve heard attributed in the past to Dr. Arthur. The meaning of that, I guess, is that you can make a case that treating a horse with medication to alleviate EIPH may be good for that individual horse but overall bad for the sport, either because of potential long-term effects on the breed and on the sport’s image.

      Also, Flag Is Up, some people are open-minded enough to change positions over a period of years or decades. I find that more honest and enlightening than entrenchment.

      • Ben van den Brink

        It is only proven that Lasix, is an fast working diuretic,

        There has never been any proofs by independant scientific organisations ( those without an interest in the industry) that lasix is improving bleeders.

        The diuretic part has been proved numerous times.

        • Tonto

          Bingo- that is the principal use of lasix- to clear the bladder of ‘testable’ residue.. Read Drugs and the Performance Horse by Tobin

        • Denis Coakley

          Lasix acts as a vasodilator in humans and is given in cases of left-heart failure. It dilates the veins and increases the blood return. The same effect in a racehorse would have a performance enhancing effect as it reduces peripheral venous resistance.

          • Ben van den Brink

            De werkzame stof in Lasix is furosemide.

            Furosemide behoort tot de groep geneesmiddelen die lisdiuretica (lis-plasmiddelen) wordt genoemd. Het voert overtollig vocht snel af en verlaagt de bloeddruk.

            Artsen schrijven het voor bij hartfalen, oedeem, nierziekten, hoge bloeddruk enchronische bronchitis bij pasgeboren kinderen.

            Hartfalen

            Verschijnselen
            Bij hartfalen (decompensatio cordis) is de pompkracht van het hart verzwakt. Het bloed wordt niet meer goed rondgepompt. U bent daardoor sneller moe en u kunt last krijgen van vocht in de benen of achter de longen. U bent dan ook sneller benauwd.

            Oorzaak
            Hartfalen kan ontstaan door een langdurig bestaande hoge bloeddruk, slecht werkende hartkleppen, vernauwing in de bloedvaten die het hart van bloed voorzien (kransslagaders), stoornissen in het hartritme of een hartinfarct.

            Werking

            Door dit medicijn scheiden de nieren meer zout uit. Het zout trekt het vocht mee. Hierdoor wordt het overtollige vocht afgevoerd via de urine. Er blijft minder bloed achter in de bloedvaten. Daardoor hoeft het hart minder hard te werken. De pompkracht van het hart neemt daardoor toe.

            Ook door een zoutarm dieet te volgen kunt u de hoeveelheid vocht in uw bloed laten dalen. Uw huisarts of diëtist kan u hierover adviseren.

            Behandeling
            Behalve het wegnemen van de oorzaak, zoals het behandelen van de hoge bloeddruk of het vervangen van een slechte hartklep, spelen medicijnen een belangrijke rol bij hartfalen. De belangrijkste medicijnen zijn plastabletten en ACE-remmers of angiotensine-II-blokkers.

            Artsen schrijven de ‘lis-plasmiddelen’ voor in acute situaties als u veel vocht moet kwijtraken. Ook bij chronisch hartfalen schrijft men het voor, als minder sterke plasmiddelen, zoals de ‘thiazide’-plasmiddelen niet voldoende werken of niet gebruikt kunnen worden. Bij mensen met hartfalen, die met dit medicijn de pompkracht van hun hart hebben verbeterd, is de kans om aan een hartziekte te overlijden kleiner.

            Effect
            Het vochtafdrijvende effect begint na een 0.5 tot 1 uur en kan 4 tot 8 uur aanhouden. De capsules met vertraagde afgifte beginnen binnen 3 uur te werken en werken 12 tot 24 uur lang.

            U merkt dat doordat u vaker moet plassen. Binnen enkele dagen merkt u dat u minder last heeft van dikke enkels en benauwdheid.

            Klik voor meer informatie over medicijnen bij hartfalen.

          • Ben van den Brink

            Dennis Coakley, you are writing just a piece from what lasix is dooiing. The kidneys are forced to deplete salt, and salt binds water. The effect within 1,5 hr -4 hr a horse will loose some 29 pds in weights and that is the enhacing part from the use of lasix. Besides that by widening the veigns time and times over again, the veigns will loose their elasticity, and will starting to leak blood much earlier than without the use of the stuff.
            It is just downright abuse.

        • Denise Steffanus

          Studies do support Lasix as an effective treatment for bleeding. According to Frederik Derksen, D.V.M., Ph.D., at Michigan State University, one of the world’s leading authorities in equine respiratory disease, until researchers find something better, Lasix is the most effective treatment for bleeders that veterinary medicine has to offer, and the best results are obtained when Lasix is coupled with an external nasal strip.

          • Ben van den Brink

            If your stance in the studies is that Lasix ifis effectives, than the results will show that. But none study from an independent source has been showing that.

            Call it an self fullfilling prohecy.

            Up to this time there is NO MEDICATION that stops bleeding.

            It,s about the same as putting air in an balloon, after an couple of times the veigns looses their elasticy and making the problems ( leak of blood)
            in the lungs only worse and worse. Only old fashioned really trained and not medicated horses will show less bleeding.

      • Flag Is Up

        I’ll agree with you about changing ones opinion, however, is that person simply changing their opinion because current situations dictate the need to do so?

        Happens in politics all the time!

        • RayPaulick

          In case you haven’t noticed, times have changed over the last 20-30 years. The public has far greater sensitivities and demands much more accountability in the treatment of animals. The science may say injecting a horse with a drug four hours before a race is OK, but I’m not sure public consensus agrees with that.

  • jttf

    can baffert, pegram and west explain to us why america’s 2 year old colts cant win grade 1 races at the ages of 3,4 5 and 6 years of age ? the last 23 champion 2 year olds have won a total of five grade 1 races. our 1988 champion easy goer won six grade 1 races at the age of three and one grade 1 at four. he wasnt even our three year old champ that year. our champions from 1971 to 1990 did win around 61 grade 1 races at the ages of 3,4,5 and 6. so let us compare….61 to 5. do we really want ruin our two year old champions ? look at what we have missed out on the last 23 years. you are ruining this sport and the horses.

    • Flag Is Up

      Amazing and sad stats!

      • jttf

        even the last 20 european juvenile champions have won 30 grade 1 (group 1) races later on in their lives.

    • Betterthannothing

      Great work, thanks. Could the chronic premature wreckage of promising babies have anything to do with the damage caused by insane speed at breeze sales and the three trainers getting most of the cream of the crop, Baffert, Lukas and Pletcher, coming from quarter horse racing or being trained by one?

    • Tonto

      Mostly because we ‘trained’ and not medicate.. Many horses ran thru their 10-12 years old seasons. Now they care gone by 3 . Open jumpers- going against time over 5 foot fences are at their best at age 10-15

  • Tonto

    As one of the few ‘no bute no lasix ‘ trainers I so regret the loss of Dr. Author- an honest man doesn’t stand a chance with the CHRB

  • Tonto

    Be sure to get itemized bills from your trainer and exactly what was
    given your horse -when and why and what results were expected. Then
    find the vet and ask him the same

  • fb0252

    Was it Rick Arthur that was treating Pleasantly Perfect for EIPH on Mandella’s
    On The Muscle DVD? Does Rick Arthur believe that PP should have been denied lasix or retired with those severe lung lesions Arthur was examining on the vid?

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