Time and money are two of the major roadblocks as the horse racing industry struggles to come to terms with medication, drug testing, and security, officials said March 4 during the joint annual meeting of Harness Tracks of America and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations.
A panel discussion on medication-related issues was one of several scheduled over a two-day period during the meeting in Fort Myers, Fla. On March 5, the discussion is to center on account wagering, signal pricing, and rebates.
The title of the medication discussion -- "Do We Really Want to Stop the Misuse of Drugs in Horses?" -- was a take-off from a white paper by equine attorney Ned Bonnie, a member of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council. In the paper, which was circulated beginning last November, Bonnie noted that voluntary financial contributions to the efforts of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium aren't sufficient.
On March 4, he said the time has come to stop talking about uniformity in medication and testing and devise a plan that works for the industry.
"You don't need to overcomplicate this," Bonnie said. "The owners have shown no reluctance to pay the appropriate fees as long as the system is transparent. When you talk about fairness in the industry, everybody needs to put up (their share)."
Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the consortium, acknowledged there still is no funding mechanism in place to support the consortium's efforts in the long term, and he suggested there could be several financial formulas to meet the needs of various stakeholders.
Still, the consortium is moving forward with its proposed national policy, which regulators will tackle again during the joint meeting of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association April 1. The Joint Model Rules Committee of both organizations is expected to discuss and perhaps approve as least part of the national policy.
Dr. George Maylin of Cornell University agreed with Bonnie that funding is a problem, but he said there is a more pressing issue. "We need to decide whether we want to use drugs in racing or we don't," he said. "Partial pregnancy doesn't work."
Maylin said the fact Salix, formerly known as Lasix, is widely accepted is a perfect example. He argued that Salix doesn't stop bleeding, enhances performance, and can mask other substances in testing.
"If that's what racing needs and wants, I think we're in trouble," Maylin said. "We have to come to grips with this."
Bonnie said there is no scientific evidence on Salix, and that until the industry can be convinced of its non-effects, other issues should take precedence. "I think we've got bigger fish to fry," he said.
There were no trainers or racetrack veterinarians on the panel. But Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association president Linda Mills was in the audience, and she asked just how serious a problem medication misuse is for the industry in the light of the fact the celebrated "super tests" of a few years ago came back 98% clean.
"Is it really a problem or is it blown out of proportion by the press and the panelists?" Mills said. "Are we spending money looking for what (HTA executive vice president) Stan Bergstein likes to call rocket fuel, and not spending money on the health and welfare of the horse?"
Waterman said the industry has no choice but to look for illegal drugs even if it acts only on rumors. Bonnie and Maylin offered detention barns as a means to ensure integrity.
"There's not enough time and money to test for all the drugs," Maylin said. "We have to use ancillary techniques. To be candid, testing isn't being done now because racing laboratories don't have the money to perform the tests."
Maylin said the ideal detention period is 24 hours, though eight hours would work because "most drugs will have their maximum effect if you give them within eight hours."
Panelists also called for holding veterinarians responsible should they administer performance-enhancing substances, and adopting procedures that would target "compounding pharmacies" that peddle drugs to the horse industry.