The California Horse Racing Board, trying to determine whether four horse-drugging cases were properly handled earlier this year, on Tuesday requested that the California Department of Justice conduct an investigation.
At a special meeting in San Diego, the racing board said that Whitt Murray, assistant to the chief of the department's Bureau of Investigation, would head the inquiry. Four horses at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park tested positive for Clenbuterol, an illegal medication that helps horses breathe and might improve performance, but the cases were dismissed by Dennis Hutcheson, executive secretary of the racing board. Later, a second laboratory confirmed that the horses' urine samples contained Clenbuterol.
Rosemary Ferraro, one of the seven racing commissioners, has been especially critical of Hutcheson's actions. At Tuesday's meeting, Ferraro reluctantly agreed with the other board members in approving the investigation.
"This body (the Department of Justice) is closely related to the state attorney general's office, which works with the racing board," Ferraro said.
"This gives me concern. I'll vote yes, but in my heart, I don't think this is the kind of investigation we need."
Henry Chavez, chairman of the racing board, estimated that the investigation might take amonth.
The names of the four trainers with positive tests have not been released, to the consternation of many trainers at Del Mar. Last Saturday, The Times identified Barbara Caganich as one of the trainers. Caganich's horse, who won a race at Hollywood Park in May, is owned by John Valpredo, whose son, Don, is a member of the racing board.
"I don't want this to be just a review of these cases," Don Valpredo said Tuesday. "I want a complete, in-depth investigation that involves interviews of trainers, veterinarians and others on the back-stretch."
Robert Forgnone, an attorney who represents the California Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Assn., approved of the board's action Tuesday, but was critical of the sources that led to the identification of Caganich and John Valpredo by The Times. The newspaper did not identify its sources.
"These people will bear the scars of what was printed," Forgnone said. "They didn't have the chance to prove that there was an error in the (horse) testing. How this information fell into a reporter's hands should be a subject of this investigation.
"Whether it was put in his hands or was the result of somebody breaking into the (racing board's) office, this has been criminal conduct."
Despite the controversy over drug testing in California in recent years--there was a cocaine scandal that embarrassed the board a few years ago--the board, citing mandatory cost-cutting measures resulting from the state's recent budget crisis, said that in 1992-93 it will reduce the amount of money spent on in-state horse testing by 33%, or $344,000.
"We'll do the best we can with the money they've budgeted," said Norman Hester, technical director for Truesdail Laboratory, the Tustin firm that does the state's horse testing.
"I don't like what's being done, but we'll try to do our best."
Hester said that as of Sept. 1, Truesdail had been directed by the racing board to test fewer of the blood samples that are taken from horses.
"These are mainly tests for high, illegal levels of bute (Butazolidin a pain-killer that is legal in small amounts)," Hester said. "Not testing these samples will cause the least amount of damage (to the testing program)."
The amount budgeted for horse testing by Iowa State University, California's complimentary laboratory, is being cut 50%, to $250,000.