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Was CHRB jimson weed news release a warning shot? Are the rumbles of a Breeders Cup drug positive true?

By Warren Eves

It was a warning shot.

That’s my take on that news release from the dysfunctional California Horse Racing Board(CHRB) on November 14 regarding jimson weed.

Why would the CHRB, with its long running apathetic history, go public with such miss information?

Do you suppose rumors of an impending Breeders Cup drug positive could have any connection with this action?

It must be said. Finding some jimson weed in one bale of straw is simply not worthy of a teeny bit of concern! Cheating with a prescription form of scopolamine, apparently continues to be an issue.

We’re hearing investigators from one California horse racing facility were sent to another horse gaming venue last week. It could be the tell tale sign of something bigger than a bale of hay.

One of my most respected sources maintains horse racing may be on the brink of an “anything goes” policy when it comes to medication. “As long as the trainer of record is willing to report the meds being used, and it’s made public, why not?” he claims.

What other conclusion can one make when California’s chief vet goes public with a silly jimson weed warning? “It is not a crisis,” said CHRB’s chief vet Rick Arthur, “but this weed can contain scopolamine, which is a prohibited substance.” Really? Talk about painting a picture that is about as obtuse as it can get. This would be the case.

On June 29, 1994, Michael G. Wagner of the Sacramento Bee, along with this writer, broke a story about seven scopolamine positives. To sum up the convoluted turn of events, the conclusion was that a prescription form of scopolamine had been the culprit–not jimson weed. “In the language of horse racing, the ability to process more oxygen often moves a horse up,” wrote Wagner. “Of the horses that tested positive, five won races, two finished second and another fourth.”

Way back then the scopolamine positives touched off a national debate.

A test horse at UC Davis died due to one of the experiments, as trainer Richard Mandella came up with bogus excuses for not one but two scopolamine positives. “Smiley” Mandella claimed his horses tested positive because they had ingested jimson weed. It was proven, beyond doubt, the weed was not to blame.

Dr. Scott Stanley, a chemist at Truesdail Labs in Tustin, said he found no atropine in the eight urine samples in that 1994 probe. “I looked exclusively for atropine,” said Stanley, adding that finding only scopolamine would indicate that only a ‘prescription form of scopolamine’–and not jimson weed–caused the two horses to test positive. If it was the weed, then you would have atropine in the test. So much for Mandella covering his arse.

Interestingly, Robert Jack, the CHRB’s equine medical director at the time, said that chemists began by giving the test horse 10 grams of ground up jimson weed.  They increased it to 40 grams. Chemists did not see any effect like dilation of the pupils or motion in the stomach.  Nor could they find scopolamine in the urine.

They increased the dose by five times, to 200 grams of the weed, containing an estimated 120 milligrams of scopolamine. Jack reported, within a couple of hours the test horse’s pupils dilated and its stomach stopped functioning. Forty-eight hours later the test horse had to be put down.

A portion of the urine from the eight test horses in which Davis chemists had been unable to find scopolamine was sent to Walter Hyde, a respected chemist at Iowa State U. Mandella said he had hoped the experiments would prove the horses had eaten the jimson weed by duplicating the results of Stanley at Truesdail Laboratories, who found only scopolamine in the official urine samples.

Do you think it might be a good idea to know your subject matter before you write such a news release, no matter what your ulterior objectives may be?

Notes scribbled across my official program–Here’s a hypothetical question that came our way. Name one horse Bob Baffert trained that became a champion sire? Lookin at Lucky and Real Quiet were the only two names we could come up with. So what does that say about trainers like “Baffy” who have a record playing medication roulette?………….Way back in 1979 sublimaze was the drug of choice. Here’s what Page Eleven wrote: “The trouble with modern day trainers is that they depend almost exclusively upon what their veterinarians say, and herein lies the heart of the problem. The vets ought to be listed as trainers of the horses. There are very few trainers like Woody Stephens, Allen Jerkens, Smiley Adams and Leroy Jolley around. These men have devoted their lives toward legitimately improving horses without the aid of drugs or stimulants upon which the neophytes almost totally depend. Why should a youngster fresh out of school be able to get a license with the use of a needle and syringe be capable of competing with men who have worked diligently at their trade for 25 to 35 years? Why should the price and the connection for a shot of sublimaze put them on a par with men who get their horses ready by freezing their legs, use of diathermy machines, ultra-sonic machines, proper massaging procedures and just plain good old fashioned common sense horsemanship which many horsemen have developed by trial and error over many years? The answer is? It shouldn’t, but where do we find ourselves today?(1979)…………On March 9, 1994 Richard Mandella’s Water Prospector finished first in a Santa Anita race where $810,816 was wagered and tested positive for scopolamine. We mention the amount that was bet, because the bettor is the forgotten one in this cheating issue. Roughly one month later on April 8 another Mandella-trainee named Wildly Joyous finished first when $764,880 was wagered. It’s impossible to accept Mandella’s lame excuse when both of his horses came up positive for scopolamine…………………I also found it interesting that a highly respected publication like the Bloodhorse would run a press release from the CHRB without checking it out factually…………I’ll remember forever what the San Diego Reader printed back in 2000. Owners don’t care if their trainer uses illegal dope, he says, as long as they win. “If he gets caught,” they’ll say, “it’s on him.” That was way back in the days after Harvey Furgatch was no longer serving on the CHRB. We had our squabbles with Furgatch, but at least he was keenly interested in the sport’s image. Furgatch was right on the issue of fining trainers for wrong doing. He felt the fines were not a deterrent. A racing board stat sheet indicated that from 1994 through 1999, postrace lab tests came up with 102 positives for prohibited drug use. The list included morphine, albuterol, procaine, caffeine, scopolamine and clenbuterol. The last three were the most common.

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About The Author

Warren Eves
Warren Eves is a senior turf writer from the state of California who calls Pearl River, Louisiana his home. The one time editor of the Pasadena Independent Star News moved on to handle publicity for racetracks coast to coast. Eves gained his first exposure to the racetrack through a school buddy the late Art Lerille, Jr., who eventually became a trainer in California. Warren worked as farm manager for crack two-year-old trainer Ray Priddy, before holding on track jobs at the racetrack. He worked for Hall of Fame trainer M.E. "Buster" Millerick, Allen Drumheller, Jr., and Dick Moon. Eves has a well rounded background in all breeds. He developed Quarter Horse Report in 1979 with Ed Burgart, track announcer, at Los Alamitos Race Course. It was an innovative publication which revolutionized the industry with actual descriptions of the workouts. While handling publicity at Saratoga Raceway in upstate New York Eves was named employee of the year in 1970. He also handled publicity for Sunland Park, Centennial Park, Ascot Park, Thistledown, and two harness meetings in California. Eves then went into the 900-line business with his best plays and has compiled his own Kentucky Derby ratings for many years. In 1997 he began going back and forth to Las Vegas teaming up with Ralph Siraco to create the long runining radio show Raceday Las Vegas. Eves has produced and directed many horse racing shows on both radio and television. In 2010 he got a call from Mark Geiger. That's when he began writing Eves, with a reputation of a trip handicapper, is known for his video tape scrutiny. He currently monitors horse racing in for a major horseplayer. While writing for Ridder Publication at the Pasadena Star News his investigative reporting was highly regarded by his peers. Often on the cutting edge, Eves has been given the green light to write about what issues he sees fit to cover. Have a question. His book "Hold All Tickets" is soon to be made available for those who come to this site. It's a factual account of actual events and happenings that took place in the 70s, 80s and 90s. If Warren doesn't know the answer to a question you may have, he'll tell you up front. Eves won't drop it there, however, he'll find someone who knows the answer and get back to you.


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