Controversial bicarbonate rule change scrapped
A controversial rule change that would have seen very harsh disqualifications automatically imposed on trainers who breach the bicarbonate rule did not reach first base.
The remit was to have been voted on at the annual general meeting of harness clubs in Christchurch last weekend but was withdrawn by Harness Racing New Zealand.
Since HRNZ revealed it wanted to raise the TCO2 threshold level but seek mandatory two-year disqualifications for first offenders, five year bans for second offenders and 10 year bans for those with three strikes, there had been widespread comdemnation from trainers.
Chief executive Edward Rennell said while HRNZ was still adamant penalties had to increase, it had been decided not to incorporate them formally into the rules.
Instead HRNZ had made submissions to the Judicial Control Authority which is reviewing its penalty guidelines, expected to be announced by November.
Rennell said most people in the industry believed the bicarb penalties needed to be tougher, and there was no dissention about the level being raised from 35mmol/l to 36.
HRNZ would draft a new rule change at its next board meeting and begin the process of consultation, a precursor to effecting the rule change.
Meanwhile, racing's drug enforcers here will consider whether to introduce stringent raceday measures which their Australian counterparts have just initiated to combat suspicious bicarbonate readings.
New South Wales harness officials have moved to stem a dramatic rise in the number of horses racing with higher bicarbonate levels in recent months.
From next month, the trainer of any horse which tests higher than 35 mmol/l will be ordered to present his horse on course much earlier than normal for the next eight weeks.
If the horse is racing at a metropolitan meeting it will have to be on course by 10am on raceday. For all other meetings the horse must be at the track four hours before its start time.
Failure to do so will result in the horse being scratched and leave the trainer subject to being charged.
NSW integrity manager Reid Sanders said the new policy was being introduced to make sure horses competed on a level playing field.
With the Australian threshold set at 36, Sanders said in the period of January through March fewer than 2% of horses tested had TCO2 levels higher than 34. Based on the standard deviation data of nearly 12,000 samples it had taken, that was in the normal range.
But in April that number increased by 100% and in May and June the number testing higher than 34 continued to rise to an alarming 8%.
The figures suggest unscrupulous trainers might be giving their horses either a half milkshake or similar alkalinising agent to combat lactic acid buildup and fatigue without breaching the limit.
Sanders said 4710 TCO2 tests had been done in the last 12 months and HRNSW had records of almost every horse racing in the state.
''We do not believe that the natural level of a horse gets above 35,'' Sanders said.
''If we ever did have a horse that got continually above 35, we would impound the horse and take resting samples.''
Racing Integrity Unit operations manager Mike Godber said while there was no evidence of a rise in levels in New Zealand, the early arrival order could be a useful tool to monitor horses with questionable levels.
By stipulating that a horse had to be on course say four hours before race start time it eliminated any suspicion that it had been milkshaked.