A New York racing commissioner implied that it's difficult to say "uniform medication rules" with a straight face. A major owner said uniformity can be achieved only with federal intervention. A New York breeder and owner said medication has weakened the breed. A Maryland horsemen's representative said the industry "is on the cusp of a major, major change in medication policy" that could lead the way to a uniform set of rules.
These different perspectives were presented at the Saratoga Institute on Racing and Wagering Law during a panel discussion entitled "Uniformity and Drug Rules: Why Aren't We There Yet?"
The answer to the question posed might be that there is no uniformity of opinion on medication policies among the various constituency groups in racing.
Moderator Cheryl Ritchko-Buley, a member of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, introduced the subject by reading comments from a speech made 63 years ago by the head of the National Association of State Racing Commissioners, the powerless entity now going by the name Racing Commissioners International.
Barry Irwin, whose comments on medication rules and testing have been featured in this publication's "Final Turn," made inflammatory comments about the current state of racing, saying, "There could not have been a worse time to have the spotlight shine on the sport," a reference to the movie Seabiscuit. Racing, at its highest level, Irwin said, is "suspect in terms of honesty." Irwin called for a return to the days of hay, oats, and water, but said it could only be achieved if the federal government got involved.
Suzie O'Cain of New York's Highcliff Farm offered similar comments from the owner/breeder perspective, saying a detention barn and a ban on raceday medication was essential. O'Cain said medication abuse begins prior to a horse's racing career, when it is sent through the sale ring on some type of medication. But she applauded the trend in 2-year-old sales to test for banned drugs, saying, "We now have an option to buy a horse and not worry you are getting damaged goods." O'Cain outlined the steep decline in a Thoroughbred's average number of starts per year. She said, "We've got the greatest product, the greatest sport...How did we let this happen?"
Alan Foreman, executive director of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, outlined steps being taken by racing states in the Midlantic that will be used by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium as the model for national uniformity. The laboratories used in the region can detect up to 143 drugs, Foreman said, and the technology they are using is liquid chromatography mass spectrometry.
According to Foreman, the rules being drafted will allow up to 27 drugs for use and treatment, with guidelines for withdrawal times ranging from 24 to 96 hours. In accordance with these rules, Foreman said, veterinarians will have to file treatment reports prior to a horse starting in a race. Horses can be treated with furosemide without requiring proof that exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage occurred, which Foreman said would "eliminate bureaucracy." Post-race testing for furosemide would be conducted to insure the drug was given at the correct time. Five banned drugs that can be traced to environmental contamination (including morphine and cocaine) will be given threshold levels.
It appears there has been real progress made by Foreman and the Midlantic group, working in conjunction with Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. But what is obvious, after hearing the range of opinion, is that no medication and testing policy will please everyone. At some point, those who are complaining the loudest and calling for the most radical reforms will have to accept compromise. If the industry stakeholders can't agree to medication policies, there is no reason to believe racing commissioners will, either.