California Bill Targeting Equine Medical Director Dies Necessary Death
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.