Uniform Medication

The AAEP organized the Racing Medication Summit in December 2001 during the University of Arizona Racing Symposium in Tucson. By the end of the day, there was recognition by the participants that an opportunity existed to address the ongoing medication and drug testing controversies in horse racing. Soon thereafter, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) was formed. Over the last four years, RMTC members have contributed over $2 million in bridge funding to cover the RMTC start-up costs. The RMTC is now moving into a new phase to establish a permanent funding mechanism. The proposed funding formula will eventually equate to $5 per start from racing associations and owners.

The majority of RMTC funds have been--and will continue to be--spent on research. The RMTC recognized from the beginning that research and development expenditures by the horse racing industry and regulators on drug testing and related pharmacology was woefully inadequate. Over the last three years, the RMTC has funded research on erythropoietin detection, procaine penicillin threshold levels, morphine contamination, ethanol, cone snail venom, and multiple adjunct bleeder medication proposals including a project just recently funded equally by the RMTC, the AAEP Foundation, and the Grayson/Jockey Club Research Foundation.

The RMTC will soon announce a new round of research funding with an emphasis on threshold level/withdrawal time projects. A large number of AAEP racetrack practitioner members were contacted to help set priorities for this effort.

A major accomplishment of the RMTC has been establishing a uniform medication policy for use across the country. Most major racing states have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, some or all of the RMTC’s medication policy recommendations. The reality of a national uniform medication policy is closer today than anyone ever thought possible.

This has not been without conflict. Veterinarians and horsemen in racing jurisdictions with perceived liberal medication rules did not support the "conservative" RMTC recommendations, and regulators in jurisdictions where the rules were perceived as conservative did not want the "liberal" RMTC recommendations. Every jurisdiction has needed to make compromises to reach a consensus. Surprisingly, there has been more agreement than disagreement all the way through the process. Eventually, the RMTC policies should allow veterinarians to deliver a healthy, sound horse to the entry box while knowing everyone is following the same rules.

The real advantage for veterinarians and horsemen will be the eventual improvement in laboratory quality. A national uniform medication policy will lead to uniform laboratory standards. This will be an unstoppable process. Most racing labs are under-funded and under-performing; quality control standards at some labs are minimal. Eventually, laboratory accreditation will be the standard rather than the exception.

The veterinarian will eventually have set, published medication guidelines due to the RMTC’s research efforts to establish threshold levels and withdrawal times. This should reduce the inadvertent positives which are the bane of trainers and veterinarians. The general estimate is that 80% of all positives fall into this category. Environmental contamination is another issue under discussion. A number of positives, apparently originating from environmental contamination, have caused frustration for horsemen and bad publicity for horse racing.

Horse racing spends too much time and money chasing insignificant or unimportant laboratory findings. This wastes state resources prosecuting questionable cases, and the time and money of horsemen in legal defense. The reputation of the accused and horse racing both suffer. If the inadvertent positives and environmental contamination problems can be reduced with research and common sense, racing commissions will be able to spend more time and money on the relatively unusual--but much more important--nefarious efforts to alter equine athletic performance and, thereby, the outcome of the race.

About the Author

Rick M. Arthur, DVM

Rick M. Arthur, DVM, is the vice president and director of the Oak Tree Racing Association, and a member of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

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