California Barn Searches Continue

A fourth barn search in less than a week has fueled speculation that California's newly implemented methodology of post-race testing for the bronchodilator clenbuterol is turning up minuscule positives that could result in accusations against some of the circuit's best known trainers.

Add Darrell Vienna's name to the list of at least three other known barn raids staged by the combined forces of the California Horse Racing Board and local police. Previously, the barns of Bruce Headley, Ted West, and Robert Marshall were swept for evidence. Vienna, whose barn was hit on June 11, was in Argentina prospecting for horses at the time.

Vienna, who is also an attorney, is currently representing trainers Mike Harrington and Howard Zucker, both accused of albuterol positives, before the CHRB. Albuterol is also a bronchodilator, though not as potent as clenbuterol.

Bob Nieto, CHRB chief of investigations, declined to comment on the reasons for the barn searches other than to outline the normal reasons for such action to be taken.

"The rules and regulations give us the right to search things in the restricted areas," Nieto said. "Normally we don't just arbitrarily do it without some form of reasonable or probable suspicion. Everybody was very cooperative and everything went well."

Standard operating procedure for CHRB investigators is to conduct a barn search when a drug positive is reported by the official state lab. The positive must be reported within 18 days of the race from which the test was taken. A trainer then has the right to send a split of the urine sample in question to another lab for independent confirmation.

The presence of the Arcadia Police Department in the Santa Anita raids of Headley, West, and Vienna and the Inglewood Police at the Marshall barn at Hollywood gave rise to concerns that something other than post-race positives were involved. Nieto said it was a matter of manpower.

"We need more personnel," Nieto said. "And because these are big barns there is a lot more you have to search. If you have a larger number of people, you can get in, do your job, and get out."

Prior to May 11, clenbuterol was illegal to possess in any form in the United States and considered a Class 3 substance by the CHRB, calling for severe penalties if found at any level. On that date it was approved for equine use in syrup form by the Food and Drug Administration and therefore legal to use in training. According to most veterinarians, clenbuterol is effective in treating horses with lung infections and helpful in alleviating such side effects as exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding.

However, California's drug testing facility at Truesdail Laboratories has been directed by the CHRB to test for clenbuterol at picogram levels (one-trillionth of a gram per milliliter of urine), and the racing board maintains a zero tolerance policy in post-race tests. At a recent meeting with trainers at Hollywood Park, it was suggested by representatives of the CHRB that one week was a sufficient withdrawal time for clenbuterol to clear the system. Subsequent studies released in other jurisdictions—such as Kentucky—suggest it may take longer.

Richard Mandella, vice president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers Association, said the CHRB should not be testing for legal substances without providing a complete set of guidelines for their use.

Cliff Goodrich, president of Santa Anita, regretted the bad public relations of police raids on the backstretch, but he was more concerned about the confusion over clenbuterol use.

"What I'm worried about--assuming they are getting it legally in syrup form and using it for horses with respiratory problems--is that if any of these guys get caught it's because of the new testing," Goodrich said. "My fear is the trainers are going to come off being the bad guys, when they are really victims of being led to believe they were playing within the rules, and then coming up with a positive sample."

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More