The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission has adopted a policy whereby administration of corticosteroids in horses must be stopped seven days prior race day.
The regulation takes effect June 1, according to a policy directive signed May 4. The PHRC unanimously voted for the regulation April 15.
Corticosteroids—those commonly used in horses include dexamethasone, prednisone, and triamcinolone—have strong anti-inflammatory capabilities and are designed to be used therapeutically. They are injected into joints to alleviate swelling.
During the recent Association of Racing Commissioners International convention in Lexington, Dr. Larry Soma of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, which developed the definitive test for blood-doping agents in horses, said corticosteroids are “potent drugs that have multiple actions on the body,” and are effective at low concentrations.
The drugs effect glucose metabolism, endogenous stress hormones, and electrolyte balance, and could cause behavioral changes, Soma said. “Just because you inject into the joint doesn’t mean you’re not going to have all these effects,” he said.
Used properly, corticosteroids can be beneficial at lower doses about six to seven days before a race, Soma said. But they often are administered “improperly” — 48-72 hours before a race, in multiple joints, and perhaps weekly, he said.
“Veterinarians believe they need guidelines to practice good medicine,” Soma said. “We still have effects (in racehorses) way beyond the time we can (quantify) the drug in plasma.”
Longtime PHRC member Rick Abbott, who retired after the April 15 meeting, said Soma and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have the ability to test for corticosteroids seven days out.
The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is studying corticosteroids with the goal of developing a national policy on their use. Industry officials have indicated joint injections are commonplace in racing.
The policy directive released May 5 states the PHRC “is concerned with the health and safety of the equine athlete engaged in Thoroughbred horse racing in the commonwealth, and with the negative impact of intra-articular administration of corticosteroids in horses on or near race day.” It was recommended by the Association of Racing Regulatory Veterinarians.
The policy pertains to horses racing at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack, and Presque Isle Downs & Casino.