The head of a major horsemen’s group in the United States has proposed a national approach for regulation of anabolic steroids in racehorses with an implementation date of Jan. 1, 2009.
Roughly 10 jurisdictions around the country are preparing to begin testing for steroids this spring. Most have adopted or will adopt all or part of the model rule endorsed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said it has become clear the spring 2008 timeline will be problematic, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic region, where horses regularly ship from state to state. Regulators in the six states had planned to begin testing April 1.
“Realistically, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Foreman said. “They may not be moving as quickly on the steroids ban.”
The Maryland Racing Commission could take action on the model rule at its Jan. 29 meeting, which doesn’t leave much time, Foreman said. Pennsylvania indicated it would begin testing in April, but Foreman said speculation the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission and Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission soon could be combined and placed under the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board may delay administrative action. Delaware is ready to go when Delaware Park opens in late April.
“In this region, having a piecemeal approach to regulation coupled with a number of horsemen who will be coming back from Florida is a prescription for major problems here,” Foreman said. “We need the time to allow all horses to be weaned off steroids. You are dealing with a drug that has been accepted therapeutically and has a long withdrawal time.”
States that have adopted the model rule have suggested horsemen stop using steroids in horses roughly 120 days before testing begins.
Horsemen in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio have expressed similar concerns. With Indiana poised to begin testing this spring, and no regulations in place in Kentucky or Ohio, shipping horses from state to state for races could be risky, they said. Horses regularly ship between the three bordering states.
“We don’t want regulators to play the ‘gotcha game,’ ” Foreman said. “This is about eliminating steroids, not penalizing horsemen for infractions. We don’t want to see anyone tarred. Any penalties should not kick in until Jan. 1.”
The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association plans to release its position on steroids regulation before or during its winter convention in late January. Kent Stirling, who chairs the National HBPA Medication Committee, said he believes nationwide regulation won’t be ready until late 2008.
Foreman said his proposal, already discussed with some RMTC officials, is not an indication of an unwillingness to adopt regulations. He said the steroids to be regulated are approved for use by the Federal Drug Administration, so racing is somewhat different from other sports being scrutinized for steroids use.
On Jan. 8, industry officials met with legislative staffers in Washington, D.C., to outline measures horse racing is taking to ban race-day steroids.
“This is not an issue of horsemen trying to fight the ban,” Foreman said. “It’s just a question of implementing a national program. I believe there is a growing sense we need a coordinated approach.”
Other questions remain. There is ongoing debate over whether to test for steroids in urine or plasma and concerns over potential false positives, Foreman said. In addition, the auction industry has opted for voluntary steroids testing, but it won't be optional for racing.