by Frank Vespe

The Maryland Racing Commission took the next step in reforming its drug and medication rules yesterday, unanimously adopting the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) multiple medication violation point system.

MDlogo scaledThat system, which the ARCI adopted in July 2013, will operate, advocates say, like the motor vehicle point system, providing for mandatory suspensions for repeat offenders in addition to whatever discipline a state racing commission might mete out.

According to Commission executive director Mike Hopkins, Commission staff will now draft regulations to implement the multiple medication violation system, with that regulation expected to be in place after all approvals sometime during the Laurel fall meet and retroactive to January 1.  (To read about how regulations go into effect, click here).

“The enactment of the multiple violation policy is the next logical step in the full implementation of the uniform medication policy,” Commission chairman Bruce Quade commented.

Under the policy, each violation of the state’s medication rules will carry with it points, ranging from 0.5 points for the least serious violations on up to as many as six points for the most severe.  Supplementary discipline kicks in when a trainer has accrued 3 points, at which point he or she receives a 30-day suspension, in addition to whatever penalty the Racing Commission enforces.  The supplementary discipline can add as much as 360 days to the normal penalties.

Frank Vespe, the founder of The Racing Biz, has owned, bought, sold, claimed, and written about horses, in varying combinations, for a decade.

Maryland will thus become one of the first states to adopt in toto the drug reform package urged forward by the ARCI: limiting allowed medications to a list of “controlled therapeutic substances,” requiring that raceday Lasix be administered by Commission (non-private) veterinarians, retaining an accredited laboratory for drug testing, and enhancing penalties via the multiple medication system.

The ARCI model rule requires that the stewards include, on their rulings, the number of points to be assessed against the trainer.  Each assessment will go into an ARCI-maintained database and, according to Hopkins, it will be the responsibility of each state to that ensure violations are put in the database and that trainers’ penalties are increased when necessary in accordance with the point system.

“As long as people put their information in the national database, it should be pretty straightforward,” he said.

According to Alan Foreman, general counsel of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA), which had earlier voted to support the system, at least 23 states representing more than 80 percent of national wagering handle are in some stage of adopting the ARCI model rules.

With the reform package, he said, there are “major advances that have been made in the racing industry with medication and drug testing — they’re real, they’re substantive, and I think they’re the most significant changes in a generation.”

Still, not everyone is on board.

Some horsemen have expressed skepticism because, they point out, a trainer with a large stable might be more likely to accrue points than one with a small stable, simply through minor or administrative overages of otherwise therapeutic medications; the rules make no such allowance for larger operations, but Foreman suggested this was “the only fair way.”

“It was virtually impossible without being arbitrary to try to set benchmarks for how many horses a particular trainer should have with respect to the points system, and there was really no way to do it,” he said.  “The fact of the matter is, when you look at it statistically, the trainers with the larger operations don’t have more medication violations than those who have one or two or three horses.  So there’s no correlation between the two.”

Commission chairman Quade said that he had not heard that complaint from horsemen and added that he believed the process the Commission had followed — which included seeking official action on the model rule by the MTHA — provided safeguards.

“By engaging them (the MTHA) and having them fully vet these things,” he said, “I believe we’re making sure that the people who are most affected have the opportunity to tear the thing apart” prior to implementation.

According to the Commission, there has not been a single positive in Maryland in 2014 despite the enhanced testing provided by Truesdail Laboratories, the accredited testing lab retained earlier this year by the Commission.

In addition, the Jockey Club and some other important racing organizations, according to Foreman, have not “embraced” the reform package.  In part, that’s because the package continues to allow raceday Lasix, which the Jockey Club would prefer to see disallowed.

And in part, said Foreman, that represents a difference of opinion as to whether it makes more sense to work within the existing framework of state regulatory bodies or to seek federal action to preempt the states.  “In this industry, it takes a year to do it [major reform],” he said.  “But if you were under federal legislation it would take just as long, if not longer, so you’re not really gaining anything.”

If the new system works as advertised, it should have the effect of leveling the playing field — an effect some claim they have already seen — and harshly penalizing the most incorrigible offenders.

And if not?

“Maryland is fully supportive [of medication reform] and plans to continue to be be proactive in addressing racing medication issues,” said Quade.  “We’re going to continue to monitor [drug rules] and tweak them within the framework of the uniform medication policy.”


  • The Commission gave its approval to an expansion of the void-claim rules it had earlier adopted.  Under the revised rule, a successful claimant will have one hour following when a race is made official to void the claim of any horse vanned off the track.  The void decision will be at the claimant’s discretion; if s/he does not void it, s/he keeps the horse.  That expands the state’s void-claim rule, which automatically voids the claim of any horse that dies during the running of a race or has to be euthanized on the track following a race.
  • There will be a single standardbred race under saddle — rather than with sulkys — run at Ocean Downs this summer, but it won’t have Commission endorsement.  After hearing about the proposed exhibition race at two consecutive meetings, the Commission, which had considered endorsing the event, instead merely thanked standardbred interests for the information.  Among other issues, Commissioner Louis Ulman raised concerns about insurance and about Commission culpability if there were a serious injury during the event.  Because the race is a non-wagering event not using money from the purse account, Commission endorsement is not required.

(Featured photo by Laurie Asseo.)