The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium--RMTC for short--is one of the newer acronyms in horse racing's bountiful alphabet soup. Nevertheless, it is doing what many of its verb-challenged siblings are not: making progress on specific issues of concern within the industry.
The consortium, created in the wake of a medication summit hosted by the American Association of Equine Practitioners in December 2001, could have gone the way of so many previous industry committees, task forces, and blue-ribbon panels--nowhere.
Perhaps it was the urgency of the subject matter. The perception, real or imagined, is that many of the sport's biggest races are being won by horses through the aid of performance-enhancing substances. Fueling this growing suspicion are fears that the cheaters are opening an ever-widening lead on regulators and their testing laboratories. Add to this the lack of uniformity in medication rules, penalties, and testing procedures, and it created a perfect storm of opinion within an industry crying out for something to be done.
Twenty-six organizations, including several from Quarter Horse and Standardbred racing, helped create and fund the RMTC. Its members represent owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, racetracks, racing commissions, veterinarians, and industry organizations. Its mission is to "develop, promote, and coordinate, at the national level, policies, research, and educational programs which seek to ensure the fairness and integrity of racing and the health and welfare of racehorses and participants, and protect the interests of the betting public."
The challenge is considerable. One of the RMTC's goals is development of model rules, something that has been a front-burner issue for more than 50 years. Its approach has been an inclusive one--to tackle the problem with many disparate segments of the industry.
Those diverse entities brought different experiences and viewpoints to the table, but they set aside pre-conceived notions and displayed uncommon willingness to work together. That is, in a sense, one of the consortium's biggest achievements to date--though far from its only one.
Model rules have been developed and already are in place in 14 states. These same rules are going through the regulatory approval process in another 12 states. Among jurisdictions complying is Kentucky, which previously had been out of step with other states while having the most liberal medication policy in the world.
The consortium recently developed model disciplinary procedures and penalties that soon will be inserted into the model rules. Dr. Scot Waterman, RMTC executive director, said one goal was to simplify the model penalties developed by Racing Commissioners International because they were not being followed. "I think our rules are extremely tough for positive findings of drugs that have no business being in the horse," he said. Waterman also said licensed owners and the horse could be penalized, but only after repeated violations or a "pattern of behavior."
The consortium has funded and approved important research no one else was willing to fund. It also has developed a "big event" security team that was widely praised for its effectiveness at this year's Triple Crown races.
The consortium has been funded by its founding members, but those commitments end next year. The RMTC has recommended permanent funding come from a $5 fee for every starter in a North American Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse race, something that, with 100% participation, would create enough of a budget to stay on the cutting edge of this never-ending challenge.
It is critical that every horse owner and stakeholder in the industry understands the importance of the work the RMTC is doing. It deserves your support.