The debate over whether Kentucky should implement a restrictive race-day medication policy heated up Nov. 18 with calls by racetrack veterinarians and trainers to keep the current policy intact, and allegations that the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is carrying out an agenda in secret.
Some speakers at the Kentucky Racing Commission-sponsored forum at Churchill Downs went so far as to say a switch to a Salix-only policy on race day would open the state up to cheating. One individual said uniformity in medication wouldn't succeed unless security measures are drastically improved.
The hearing, the second held in Kentucky, came about after racing commission chairman Frank Shoop in September announced Kentucky should follow the lead of the consortium in its quest for uniform medication rules and drug-testing procedures. Oddly, it was Shoop, not the consortium, that publicly stated the national policy would be Salix-only on race day.
The consortium will present the policy to regulators in Tucson, Ariz., in December. It still isn't known whether the policy will be released to the industry after that meeting.
The Kentucky medication policy allows for up to five therapeutic medications on race day, primarily Salix, a bleeder medication, and adjunct medications such as Bute and Banamine. The number of permitted substances whittled down from 16 last year.
Trainer Tom Amoss, who races primarily in Kentucky and Louisiana, urged regulators to keep the horse in the equation. He said use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly known as NSAIDs, is akin to aspirin used by humans for minor aches and pains.
"When I hear these viewpoints, the strongest and most important viewpoint should be that of the horse," Amoss said. "Go to people who work with the horse. Their opinions should not only be stated, but strongly considered."
Dr. Mark Cheney said adjunct medication is a necessity because of a number of environmental factors that interfere with horses' respiration. Year-round racing, he said, compounds the situation.
Cheney said there should be two priorities: eliminating illegal substances and protecting the welfare of the horse. Eliminating use of therapeutic, nonperformance-enhancing medication on race day would be counterproductive, he said.
"The cheaters will prosper," Cheney said.
Cheney said the consortium should instead focus its energy and resources on integrity issues and developing tests for "designer drugs." He also questioned the motives of members of the consortium, which is made up of individuals and organizations within the pari-mutuel industry.
"I think the consortium could use some common sense instead of science and come to conclusions...Everyone is thinking about politics and their ego," Cheney said.
Lonny Powell, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and treasurer for the consortium, said members looked at all the possibilities and reached a consensus on a Salix-only policy. He suggested Kentucky would be left behind if it didn't support the consortium's proposal.
"Embracing the status quo in Kentucky is a vote for no national medication," Powell said. "Plain and simple, that's how it shakes out. A dig-in-and-oppose position has no shot at reconciliation with a national policy."
Dr. John Piehowicz, who practices primarily at Turfway Park, questioned the way the consortium meets in private. He also said there is no evidence owners, trainers, or the public have complained about Kentucky's medication policy.
"The majority of the proposal is surrounded in secrecy for some non-Democratic reason," said Piehowicz, who suggested there are no minutes from consortium meetings.
The consortium has said the meetings are closed in order to facilitate open dialogue and speed the process. Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the consortium, is the designated spokesman.
Other veterinarians and trainers defended Kentucky's policy. Some said the Kentucky HBPA, the largest state horsemen's group in the country in terms of membership, has no voice on the consortium. The National HBPA has a representative in Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida HBPA and chairman of the National HBPA Medication Committee.
Dr. Thomas Tobin, a pharmacologist from the University of Kentucky and an adviser to the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said there is too little medication "when practitioners cannot use a therapeutic substance in a horse in training." He also said there is too little medication "when the rules interfere with the appropriate veterinary treatment of racehorses."
Ned Bonnie, an equine attorney and member of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council, issued a paper Nov. 17 that called for measures over and above what the consortium advocates. He presented a brief during the racing commission hearing.
Bonnie said the consortium needs a security and integrity plan, must attack the problem of "rogue suppliers and compounders of biologics and other products used to affect the performance of the horse," must devise a financial plan and source of funding, must meet with industry participants to develop "responsibility rules" on at the racetrack, and obtain estimates on the cost of producing threshold levels for therapeutic substances.
"The industry is going to have to decide how it's going to fund fairness issues and research issues," said Bonnie, who suggested a per-start fee that could raise about $8 million a year for consortium endeavors.
The next hearing will be scheduled for early 2004, Shoop said. That would indicate the racing commission has no intention of taking action on the Salix-only proposal this year.