The Model Rules Committee of the Association of Racing Commissioners International has voted 12-0, with one abstention (Louisiana), to recommend lowering the threshold of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug Phenylbutazone, also known as Bute.
The committee action Sept. 17 came as a result of recommendations from the RCI Regulatory Veterinarians Committee, the RCI Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee, the Jockey’s Guild, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
The change will not be fully adopted as a model rule until it is approved by the RCI Board of Directors, which is expected to meet in early October.
According to a release from RCI, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the Thoroughbred Owners of California, and the California Thoroughbred Trainers submitted statements urging RCI not to approve the proposal.
The proposed change will result in a lowered allowance of two micrograms of phenylbutazone per milliliter of plasma or serum, down from five micrograms as currently stated in the RCI Model Rules.
According to RCI, Maryland and Pennsylvania currently have the two microgram threshold in place.
RCI president Ed Martin issued a lengthy statement along with the release in which he defended the revised model rule, noting that the scientific review process within the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium "was developed to address such matters. It is unfortunate and troubling that some now question the thoroughness of that review. The RMTC process is necessary to ensure that the omnipresent scientific debate is structured so regulators, horsemen, owners, and fans can understand and rely on recommendations that reflect the preponderant scientific view, if not a consensus, of the best advisers we have at our disposal."
Martin said opponents of the lowered threshold level did not "present an argument as to why the administration of phenylbutazone close enough to race time to trigger a five microgram threshold was absolutely necessary to the health of the horse. The unanswered question by those in opposition to the proposed policy change is why a horse in pain requiring an administration of phenylbutazone at their suggested level should be racing.
"Phenylbutazone treats muscular sprains, tendonitis, acute joint injury, and arthritic conditions," Martin’s statement continued. "There are clear warnings that its overuse could seriously jeopardize equine health... Even if we were to agree - and we do not - with those who claim that the process by which the science was assessed was flawed, the prudent course for public policymakers would be to err on the side of caution in the interest of the horse and rider."