Racing Drug Panel Moves Forward with Per-Start Fee for Owners

Lab accreditation, quality assurance to get close look

Racehorse owners would contribute about $4.5 million a year to support research projects under a recommendation by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which continues to seek a uniform policy for medication and drug testing in the United States.

The consortium met Sept. 9 in Lexington, Ky. It has proposed a $5 per-start fee to be paid by owners of Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Quarter Horses. Representatives of the three breeds have seats on the consortium, which has a new chairman in Dan Fick, executive director of The Jockey Club.

Fick takes over for D.G. Van Clief Jr., the Breeders' Cup chief who recently took over as interim commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association upon the resignation of Tim Smith. Van Clief said he "would have loved to have stayed, because it's really picking up momentum. It’s only an issue of the amount of time I wasn't going to have going forward."

The per-start fee has been in the works for some time. The consortium, which thus far has relied on contributions, needs money to pay for research to develop threshold levels and withdrawal times for therapeutic medications, new tests for prohibited and currently unknown substances, laboratory accreditation, and quality assurance programs.

The $4.5 million is based upon a total of 900,000 starts by Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Quarter Horses each year. Scot Waterman, DVM, executive director of the consortium, said the fee could be phased in by jurisdiction with a goal of having a broad system in place by 2006, when funding commitments expire.

Waterman said 60% of racing jurisdictions have either adopted or are in the process of adopting consortium language in the model rules approved in April by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association. The process is ongoing.

Lab accreditation and quality assurance has been a key issue for the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association Medication Committee, which is chaired by Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling. Jurisdictions award drug-testing contracts to various labs around the country. There could be a push in the United States to have one or two labs handle equine drug tests, officials have said.

"You've got four or five labs in the country already accredited to international standards," Stirling said. "It generally makes them judgment-proof. Once you have labs accredited, a quality assurance program is needed to get blind samples to find out what a lab can do and what it can't do. The labs are the police, and I want someone policing the police."

The consortium also is looking into "milkshaking," or bicarbonate loading, in Thoroughbreds, and backstretch security measures.

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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