Horse Racing Medication Reform Takes Major Step
With regulators and leading industry groups leading the charge, many believe sweeping medication reform could become a reality in early 2013.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
With regulators and leading industry groups leading the charge, many leaders believe sweeping medication reform could become a reality in early 2013.
In what could prove to be a landmark meeting of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) Model Rules Committee earlier this month, medication reforms aiming for simplicity and uniformity were adopted. The new model rules are similar to the Jockey Club's Reformed Racing Medication Rules first introduced in August 2011. They promise simple standards, harsh punishment for repeat violators and first-time abusers of non-therapeutic drugs, and uniform regulations and testing procedures from state to state.
The model rules were developed through input from The Jockey Club, the industry's Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety, and the RCI Scientific Task Force, which was organized by Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (THA) Chairman Alan Foreman. The task force included veterinarians and experts on drug labs and testing.
"What we did was actually kind of huge," said RCI President Ed Martin. "We're moving toward this structure where we'll have a list of regulated therapeutic medications with threshold levels, and ask all the racing commissions to adopt it by reference, which would give us uniformity."
Under the plan, there will be a list of about 25 medications allowed for therapeutic use in race horses. Each of these medications will have a withdrawal time to ensure the drug is out of the horse's system on race day, or at a level low enough to not affect performance. Any other drug not on the list will not be allowed in the horse's system, at any level, and will be subject to harsh penalty.
Racing is regulated from state to state and the RCI is an organization of state racing regulators. It adopts model rules that it encourages its members to adopt. The system has had its successes; states quickly acted to rid the sport of anabolic steroids in about a six-month period ending in early 2009. But at other times states have tweaked their rules to address local concerns, which has lead to inconsistencies from state to state.
The current medication reforms have the backing of The Jockey Club, which plans to campaign for their adoption from state to state, and at least one major horsemen's group, the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. It represents trainers in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The other major horsemen's group, the national Horsemen's Benevolence and Protective Association (HBPA), is on board with much of the reform.
With such industry backing, uniform medication reform seems possible.
"At least in terms of our objectives in the immediate future, we want to build a coalition of like-minded supporters. We're well down the road on that now. In terms of actually taking this to the streets--the doorsteps of the regulatory authorities on a state by state basis--that's a 2013 initiative for us," said Jockey Club executive director Matt Iuliano. "That's something we're going to be looking at in the first and second quarters. We'll continue to push that."
Jockey Club President Jim Gagliano is looking forward to rallying the states behind the new model rules. Earlier this year, federal oversight of the industry was suggested at U.S. Congressional hearings as speakers noted the sport's inability to effectively police itself. Gagliano pointed to The Jockey Club's Reformed Medication Rules and said they would support any regulatory framework that would help the reforms become a reality, whether that be the current state system or federal oversight.
"We need to go state to state and take these rules that have been approved by large, broad-based parties and get them implemented in these states," said Gagliano, who will have an audience well aware of the possibility of the federal government stepping in if reform is halted.
"The reforms certainly can become a reality, the question is, 'Will they?' And, 'How quickly will they become a reality?' Given the constituents that we brought these rules to, I'm encouraged because we're broad-based. We spent a lot of time with horsemen, vet groups, racetracks, and regulators. And in synthesizing all of that feedback, we have these groups on the same page."
Foreman said the THA is organizing a meeting of state regulators from all of the Mid-Atlantic states in January. He believes those states could have the new rules adopted by March. Foreman said withdrawal times for the listed therapeutic drugs and the chance to have the same rules and testing from state to state are very attractive ideas for horsemen.
"We hope to do this regionally and hopefully the whole country will follow. But we're not going to wait. This needs to be done and will benefit the horsemen racing in this region," Foreman said. "Horsemen just want to know what the rules are and see that everyone abides by them. They'll follow them.
"It's big that all the states will use all of the same testing levels for therapeutic drugs. A horseman can be comfortable that the testing will be the same throughout the entire region, and hopefully soon nationally. You can't have jurisdictions calling positives at different levels. It's confusing when you're going from one jurisdiction to another. It's a big, big step forward."
Foreman said thanks to endless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in scientific study, solid thresholds and withdrawal times have been developed for therapeutic medications, including corticosteroids and the bronchodilator clenbuterol. He said accreditation of labs and more consolidation of those labs has put racing in position to put standardized testing rules in place from state to state.
Foreman said much of the impetus came from the International Summit on Race Day Medication in September 2011. He said the RCI Scientific Task Force then met in January and again in October. Many of its ideas were incorporated in the RCI model rules.
"If we can get the Mid-Atlantic states to adopt these changes, it's going to be the launch pad," Foreman said. "THA has committed to these reforms and is working to get them done."
National HBPA CEO Phil Hanrahan said his group is largely on board.
"It's a good start. Some of the items that we requested were taken under advisement, but I think it's a good start," Hanrahan said. "Our view has been, and remains, that the model rules process is the best process to build consensus and get the best results for the industry."
Martin said the rules include some innovative ideas.
"Instead of recommending withdrawal times for therapeutic medications, we voted to have restricted administration times. That sends a very clear signal that even though we consider this drug normal for equine care, and we've published the threshold level at which we will call positives; you do not give this medication within this particular period of time or you will be in violation of the rules," Martin said.
"It creates another avenue to prosecute drug cases but it also gives a very clear line to the horsemen, rather than trying to figure out what the thresholds mean."
Some drugs will be allowed for treatment of specific diseases or injuries. But Martin said administration of those drugs, which will be categorized as "special instance medications," will need to be reported ahead of time to a regulatory veterinarian. The report would have to include the dosage and the reason the horse was being administered the drug.
A 2011 McKinsey Report for The Jockey Club indicated medication issues and lax punishment of violators is a major concern of fans and a roadblock to attracting new fans. Iuliano said the simplified system should help the sport address those problems.
"The model rules included the two-category drug classification system we proposed," Iuliano said. "Medications can be characterized as either controlled therapeutics subject to regulatory thresholds--and also subject to withdrawal guidelines and administration times. Or, the other category is prohibited substances."
Violations involving those prohibited substances will carry harsh penalties. Repeat violations in either category will also result in harsh penalties. A point system will be developed to track repeat violators. An RCI subcommittee is working on the details of the point system.
Martin said RCI plans to have its model rules published and then take those reforms to the individual states by the end of January.
Iuliano said the HBPA raised some valid concerns on issues like supplements but he's optimistic that agreement can be reached.
Foreman said the new system will better define the various levels of violations. He said some drugs like required vaccinations and antimicrobials, which have zero impact on performance, will not be tested for. He said instances have occurred when such medications have shown up as positives on drug tests.
Foreman sees potential for meaningful change that addresses integrity while providing horsemen consistency and fairness.
"We're really moving forward with significant changes on medication policy in this country. I'm very pleased about it," Foreman said.
"There are a lot of things happening here, a lot of moving parts that the public doesn't see, but these are a lot of changes," he added. "You hear about the hiccups and there are some, but there's really a sea change going on. This is a complicated area, a difficult area, but we're working through it and we're finally seeing the results of the hard work and the money spent. I think 2013 is going to be a year when a lot of these advances are rolled out and people see the changes."<
Originally published on BloodHorse.com.
About the Author
Frank Angst is a staff writer for The Blood-Horse magazine. An American Horse Publications three-time winner in best news story category, Angst has covered horse racing for more than a decade. Angst spent ten years at Thoroughbred Times, where he earned awards as that magazine’s senior writer and helped launch Thoroughbred Times TODAY. Besides covering horse racing, Angst enjoys handicapping. Angst has written about sports for more than 20 years, including several seasons covering a nationally ranked Marshall Thundering Herd football team.