by Terry Conway

Uniformity in racing medication rules is coming to the mid-Atlantic region.  But significant challenges remain to be addressed between now and the planned-for implementation of the rules on January 1, 2014.

The challenges range from the mundane — drafting and adopting appropriate regulations — to the practical — how to pay for the improved testing the new rules will require — to educating and earning the support of rank and file horsemen themselves.RMTC logo

Eight states from Massachusetts through Virginia have agreed to operate their racetracks under a uniform racehorse medication rule. The rule would apply to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia, as well as Massachusetts and New York.

The Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (THA) chairman Alan Foreman, Esquire spearheaded the uniform medication standards bringing various racing parties together. The THA represents more than 20,000 owners and trainers, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest regions.

Eighteen tracks operate within a 200-mile radius of each other. The proposed medication standard eases the burden on trainers who often deal with different regulation issues when racing in multiple states.

The new uniform medication standard is what the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) has been advocating for years.

“Uniform medication rules serve foremost to protect the horse and second to improve the integrity and compliance of the racing industry (owners, trainers, practitioners and regulators) which should send a clear message to the racing public about our commitment to a safe, fair racing environment,” said Dr. Kathy Anderson, VMD, Vice Chair AAEP Racing Committee and part owner of Equine Veterinary Care located on the grounds of Fair Hill Training Center in northern Maryland.

[pullquote]“Uniform medication rules serve foremost to protect the horse and second to improve the integrity and compliance of the racing industry (owners, trainers, practitioners and regulators) which should send a clear message to the racing public about our commitment to a safe, fair racing environment,” said Dr. Kathy Anderson.[/pullquote]

Under the agreement, medications are divided into two categories: controlled therapeutic substances and prohibited substances. The 24 therapeutic medications are those that practicing veterinarians, regulatory veterinarians, industry chemists and pharmacologists say are routinely used and necessary to treat illness or injury in horses. Of these 24, furosemide (also known as Lasix or Salix) is the only one permitted to be given on race day. The new standard requires that the drug be administered under controlled circumstances by a state racing commission approved veterinarian.

One issue that’s caused controversy in Maryland has been the prohibition on the use of adjunct anti-bleeding medications.

Those who support “adjuncts” insist that they prevent or reduce the severity of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). Their number include some veterinarians and rank-and-file trainers.

Yet the THA has pushed for the prohibition of adjuncts, a position also taken by the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. In the lead-up to the Preakness, it was reported that a trio of horses that competed were scheduled to receive adjunct bleeder medications. Had those adjunct drugs been administered before the Kentucky Derby or Belmont, those horses would have been unable to run.

“There is no data that proves it helps with EIPH, no benefits whatsoever,” said Dr. Larry Soma, VMD, a Professor of Veterinary Medicine at New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.

“A veterinarian may give you anecdotal information, but what you really want is an objective test considering all the variables, looking at the horse at the same time after the hemorrhaging.”

Fair Hill’s Anderson was present at two meetings where there was vigorous debate about adjuncts and their effect on EIPH.

“I think there are genuine concerns regarding the effect on the health of the horse,” she noted. “This only serves to underscore the lack of basic science on both EIPH and effective ways to manage the problem.  A number of industry organizations are seeking ways to improve this area of knowledge in the near future.”

When Maryland adopted the framework of the Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program, its Racing Commission rejected the request by a number of private veterinarians who sought an exception for adjuncts.  It is scheduled to go into effect by September. However, the final details of the program’s adoption are still being ironed out.

The new standards will also accredit testing laboratories and instill uniformity in testing procedures.

“That’s a big deal,” Anderson related. “Prior to this agreement, there was a huge amount of variability regarding states’ ability to test for medications. Having uniformity in those procedures will narrow the gap between rules and reality.  The challenge for individual states is restructuring their current programs to come into compliance and to provide the funding necessary.  Several are looking at outsourcing the testing.”

[pullquote]Having uniformity in those procedures will narrow the gap between rules and reality,” said Dr. Anderson.[/pullquote]

Dr. Soma has spent much of his career developing standards to effectively test for illegal substances in racehorses.

“The ability of a certain state laboratory to detect certain drugs comes down to the sophistication of the instrumentation,” Dr. Soma related. “New Bolton and Cornell have been using analyses of equine plasma samples instead of urine testing for nearly a decade. It’s the best way to find a drug. Other smaller labs that don’t have these machines, it’s going to be more difficult.”

Seventeen of the 24 therapeutic drugs include commonly used painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and treatments for lung and gastrointestinal ailments. The other seven include more powerful drugs that are used to treat specific injuries, and penalties for over-usage of those drugs will be more severe than for the other seventeen drugs.

Among some horsemen, there is a concern about testing. At least two different trainers told, anonymously, that they were convinced that other trainers were giving their horses anabolic steroids — in violation of existing rules — and getting away with it. These trainers were skeptical about the new regime.

There is also concern among horsemen about the new “Multiple Violation Penalty System” (MVP), announced last week.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) approved last week a recommendation that states adopt rules that would subject trainers with multiple medication violations to additional suspensions and fines.

The rules would assign points to trainers with medication violations and base additional penalties on the number of points accrued. The rules were finalized earlier this year with the support of a number of national racing groups. The points system has been designed to reduce medication violations by subjecting trainers to harsher penalties when offenders repeatedly violate rules for both therapeutic medications and banned drugs.

The Multiple Violation Point system was developed by the RMTC’s Penalties Subcommittee.

“The points system provides a simple and straightforward method to deal with multiple medication offenders, regardless of the violation or the location of each violation,” said Dr. Dionne Benson, the executive director of the RMTC.

Yet some trainers worry that honest conditioners who get occasional accidental overages of therapeutic meds — which constitute the majority of medication positives — will get swept up as “bad guys” by the new penalty system, which they fear will treat a number of minor transgressions as equivalent to outright cheating.

Still, says the RMTC’s Dr. Benson, in words that echo what many have said, “This is a huge step for racing and the control of medication in our sport.”

(The RMTC’s press release on the proposed MVP system is here.)