Mandella today states that the Bee story was premature; it's now known that a trace amount, as he says, as was the case with his horses, will not necessarily produce atropine. No sane trainer would use the drug, he says, since it's like a poison: "It slows down their intestines and gives them colic. It doesn't help a horse." He argues that environmental contamination by prohibited chemicals is everywhere and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has assured him that even high-quality grains meant for human consumption could have trace amounts of substances considered harmful.
The racing board's testing procedures are too sensitive, Mandella thinks; they pick up trace amounts caused by environmental factors rather than deliberate trainer wrongdoing, which he believes is nonexistent on the California tracks. Referring to the recent morphine positive of a Bob Baffert horse, he says, "A guy would have to be pretty stupid to think he could give morphine and get away with it. Baffert's not a moron, he's a pretty smart guy. I don't know what should be done, but you've got to learn contamination levels." He hopes the enlarged lab at U.C. Davis will come up with more sophisticated tests, "so we're not witch-hunting."
Dr. Scott Stanley is the director of the Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Laboratory at U.C. Davis. Although he was one of the chemists who was quoted by the Sacramento Bee that scopolamine from the Mandella sample must have been a "prescription form" rather than from jimson weed, he now acknowledges that Mandella was probably correct, as more conclusive tests have indicated that atropine will not necessarily show up, even in environmental-contamination cases. Stanley also notes that eating poppy seeds can cause a morphine positive, not only in horses but in humans. "Racing chemistry can't answer every question about the postrace findings. There are some drugs from environmental sources. The laboratory can't definitely say."
Stanley believes that all illicit drugs will be discovered by current testing procedures but also admits it "takes a lot of effort for the laboratories to stay up with all the medications being produced by the pharmaceutical industries." His lab is working to develop more reliable testing procedures, to "find out anything [illegal] that was going undetected prior."
In 1998 several Southern California trainers had horses test positive for clenbuterol, the bronchodilator with a reputation for strengthening muscle tissue and acting as a stimulant (the drug has been found in show animals, like calves and sheep, which concerns federal health authorities; consuming meat from animals contaminated by clenbuterol could cause health problems). One of the trainers involved is Darrell Vienna, himself an attorney.
Because the case is still in litigation before an administrative judge, Vienna couldn't discuss specifics, but "I can tell you this," he said from his barn at Del Mar. "The horse racing board chose the venue, the office of administrative hearing; they basically hand-picked the judge, and after hearing all the evidence the judge rules that the case should be dismissed. And the horse racing board rejected his proposed decision."
The director of the California Horse Racing Board, Roy Wood, did not return calls, but in a brief telephone conversation his assistant, Roy Minami, characterized Vienna's remarks as "baloney." Vienna is appealing to an administrative judge.
Another trainer involved in a similar case, who settled with the board and paid a stiff fine, said that after clenbuterol was legalized by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998 the racing board failed to issue guidelines for the use of the drug on or near race day. They had also, unbeknownst to trainers, come up with a test to detect its presence to a trillionth of a gram. Warren Eves, who wrote an article for the Pasadena Star-News in 1978 about Vienna's problems over illegal doping, doesn't think the trainer has much to worry about. "They can't beat Darrell Vienna. What are you going to do when you have a sharp guy like Vienna going against the morons they have as investigators?"
Gary Jones is a Del Mar resident on both sides of the issue. For 22 years Jones has been a leading trainer at Southern California tracks, until his retirement in 1996. He once had a horse test positive, he says, although he'd done nothing wrong. Jones believes the horse racing board overregulates. "They're political appointees, you know how that works. The politicians want to do something, and it's not always right. They should only have horsemen on the board, people who know the game. But they'd say that would be conflict of interest. But isn't that what you have right now?"
Unlike Mandella, Jones does not believe that morality and ethics always rule on the backside. "I don't want to say anything that would hurt horse racing, because I love the game. But you ask any real horseman out there, all they want is a level playing field. When things are really going good, you win maybe one out of four races. And then you see some kid come in who's getting 50 percent winners, and that goes on for a year. And then it suddenly stops, maybe because the board gets after them.
"There was a time when clenbuterol was all over, and the board may have been letting some people get away with it, especially the bigger trainers. There's a lot of good trainers out there who would be in favor of just entirely eliminating all the drugs."
That's not likely to happen anytime soon. Eves believes that only by "completely rewriting the rules of racing," specifying penalties for each offense and enforcing same, can the game be saved from itself. But "as long as you got Roy Wood as California Horse Racing Board director, nothing will be done," he says bitterly. "The guy is a fraud, and his investigators are frauds. They're like the Keystone Kops."
Still the California Horse Racing Board chairman Robert Tourtelot has promised action against the cheaters. In his speech to the racing commissioners he said, "Let me tell you that in California you are going to see more and more severe penalties being applied.... We think we know who the few culprits are, and they're either going to stop testing us or we're going to help them find another occupation."
Bruce Fleury's friend, Richard Tannyhill, the dentist with prominent racetrackers among his patients, is not convinced that the racing board has the will to make changes. He believes that a tragic occurrence will galvanize opinion and force reform to drive illicit doping from the racetracks. Sooner or later, he thinks, a horse loaded with banned drugs will stumble or fall during a race. "It's going to take a top jockey being killed. Then everything will hit the fan."