by Teresa Genaro
At a July meeting in Saratoga Springs, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) approved a model rule described by the organization as the third of three measures designed to address inconsistencies in national medication policies in Thoroughbred horse racing (here).
Just about two months later, details of the system have yet to reach the backstretches of Mid-Atlantic racetracks.
Under the multiple medication violations point system, trainers would be assigned points for each medication violation they incur, much as drivers are assigned points for moving violations. Once a certain threshold of points is reached, trainers would receive an automatic suspension in addition to whatever penalties were assigned by local authorities.
The ARCI had already approved model rules establishing uniform thresholds for controlled therapeutic medications and consistent lab standards for testing equine samples for the presence of prohibited substances. Those rules have been adopted, at least conditionally, by all mid-Atlantic states.
Challenges remain, however. For one thing, not every state is using an accredited laboratory to test their samples. For another, the violations database — to track points accrued by trainers — still needs to be developed.
Linda Gaudet is a Maryland-based trainer who has been a member of the board of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association since its inception, and as of earlier this week, she had not seen the model rule approved in July. Sent a copy, she expressed cautious support for the policy.
“Is it the right thing to do? Yes,” she said, before qualifying her support with reservations about some its elements. In particular, she agreed with the concern raised by the National HBPA that horsemen would have to petition to have points removed once they’d expired, instead of the points coming off automatically.
She also noted that inconsistency in laboratory protocols and processes gave her pause.
“It’s so important to have consistent labs,” she said. “[In Maryland] we’re behind the times; we don’t have an accredited lab. We asked for it to be changed, it was supposed to happen at Laurel, and now it’s supposed to be the first of the year.
“Nothing should go into effect until everyone uses the same labs, everywhere across the country.”
At Monmouth Park, trainer Terri Pompay agreed.
“The points system is fine,” she said. “Any system is fine, as long it’s uniform across the country. The lab testing all has to be the same: the same testing, the same procedures, the same punishments. I can live with any system as long as there’s uniformity in it.”[pullquote]“I have six condition books. You’re looking at every book, and you can’t enter at one track because the clenbuterol policy is different from the one you’re at– it gets confusing and you miss spots,” said trainer Ben Perkins.[/pullquote]
Of greater concern to trainers than the points system was the lack of consistency in withdrawal times in nearby jurisdictions. This week, the Maryland Racing Commission approved the Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program, which specifies which medications are approved for therapeutic use in racehorses and mandates uniform withdrawal times and testing levels.
Eight states—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and West Virginia—pledged to implement the plan by January 1, 2014.
Said trainer Ben Perkins, “I have six condition books. You’re looking at every book, and you can’t enter at one track because the clenbuterol policy is different from the one you’re at– it gets confusing and you miss spots.”
Over the winter, Perkins was pointing his filly Jewel of a Cat to a stakes race at Laurel. At the time., Maryland had a four-day withdrawal period for clenbuterol, so four days before the race, he stopped the medication, only to have the race not go.
“So they called me from New York, because we were nominated to a stakes race there, to ask if we wanted to run, and I said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to run…no, wait, we can’t run,’ because New York’s withdrawal period was 10 days.”
Even though he hadn’t seen the details of the multiple medication rule, he said that it was “definitely a positive” because it helps dispel the perception of cheating in horse racing.
“The perception of cheating,” he said, “is just as bad as actual cheating nowadays.”
Pompay said that no trainers she’d talked to had any real knowledge of or understanding of the multiple violations rule; trainer Tim Hills theorized that that’s because the rule will apply to so few trainers.
“People who don’t get a lot of violations aren’t really paying attention to it,” he said at Belmont Park on Sunday, “but I think it makes a lot of sense.”
Hills said that he was suspended once in his 40-year training career, back in 1988 when some feed buckets got switched and a therapeutic medication went into the wrong horse.
“Accidents do happen,” he said, “so you should have some kind of a warning or points system. I think it’s excellent.”
“But,” he added, “you have to be on top of your business and take care of your business properly. If you get one violation, shame on you if the same situation happens again.”
Both Pompay and Gaudet expressed concern about the stringency of the penalties given the prevalence of trainers with stables at multiple racetracks. Though both acknowledged and accepted the trainers’ ultimate responsibility, both were made uneasy by what they see as the real prospect of sabotage on the backside.
“It doesn’t take a lot,” Gaudet observed. “A couple of bute pills, a big dose of clenbuterol the night before, and your livelihood could be on the line.[pullquote]“It’s easy to get in these barns; you’ve got people who work in other barns, walk through other people’s barns; people live on the backstretch. So are you going to take a career away from someone because somebody else got to your horse?” asked trainer Terri Pompay.[/pullquote]
“There’s got to be due process or justice is not served. You’ve got an assistant or someone in the next barn who gets mad at you, and if you’ve got a defense, it has to be heard.”
Said Pompay, “It’s easy to get in these barns; you’ve got people who work in other barns, walk through other people’s barns; people live on the backstretch. So are you going to take a career away from someone because somebody else got to your horse?”
The multiple medications violations rule has yet to be passed by any state racing commissions, though the ARCI hopes that it will take effect in early 2014. Gaudet said that she expected horsemen to discuss the rule this fall; she also expects that it will actually affect few trainers.
“In the overall scheme of things, horsemen doing this year after year have pretty clean records,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of positives here; we don’t have a lot of problems. If it helps clean up those few violators and makes the whole business look better, terrific.
“Hopefully, the rule will just be on paper and we’ll never have to use it.”
(Featured image by Nick Hahn.)