New regulations patterned after model policies offered by the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and regulators in the Mid-Atlantic region will in place in Virginia when Colonial Downs opens for live racing in June.
"Virginia is pleased to have had a role in the development of the Mid-Atlantic policy," said Virginia Racing Commission member Peter Burnett, who chairs the commission's Medication and Safety Committee. "Horsemen want a level playing field and the integrity of the racing industry must be protected. Virginia has been a leader in medication regulation, and once the uniform rules are approved in all jurisdictions throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, and ultimately nationally, a much fairer process will be in place for all horsemen."
The changes add pre-race testing for excessive bicarbonate levels--"milkshakes"--to the current post-race testing. There has only been one positive test for a high bicarbonate level since Colonial Downs began testing in 1997.
Horses will no longer have to qualify to receive Salix, the bleeder medication formerly known as Lasix. The veterinarian and the trainer will make the decision on Salix, which now must be administered at the track. Horses must be on the grounds at least four hours prior to post time for their races; previously, there was no arrival deadline.
Either flunixin or phenylbutazone, but not both, is permitted up to a level of 20 nanograms per milliliter of plasma.
Veterinarians are subject to the same penalties as trainers. The penalties are weighted toward increased fines versus suspensions to discourage the practice of transferring horses to assistants.
"All the changes we made are what the Mid-Atlantic commissioners have agreed upon," said Stan Bowker, executive director of the Virginia Racing Commission. "We are the first ones that will have the program implemented in its entirety for this summer's meet."
In 2002, the commission divided medications into three categories rather than the five traditionally used by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. Category 1 medications are those that should never be used in horses and never show up in a sample; Category 2 drugs are those used in training but they must be out of a horse's system before race; and Category 3 substances are those that shouldn't be administered within 24 hours of a race.
"There is absolutely no reason that a horse should have a Category I drug in its system, and we want it clear that there will be no second chances," commission chairwoman Anne Poulson said in a release about the zero-tolerance position.
Commissioners believe the new procedures and penalties won't deter horseman from racing Virginia because the commission has tested race winners and random runners since Colonial Downs opened in 1997.
Penalties in other Mid-Atlantic states could vary, but Bowker believes that they will be fairly close. Virginia commissioners expect other Mid-Atlantic states will adopt the policy within the next year.
"I feel that the important thing to the success of the system is insuring the integrity of racing to the horse owner and the fan," Colonial Downs general manager John Mooney said. "People are aware that we are thorough in our testing."