The West Virginia Senate Feb. 25 passed an overhaul of the state’s horse racing regulations, which include mandatory pre-race veterinary exams for horses.
The revisions have met with some opposition from horsemen and breeders who claim their suggestions, as well as concerns from veterinarians, weren’t regarded. The rules now go to the House Judiciary Committee for review and action; the West Virginia legislative session ends March 12.
Along with mandatory pre-race exams, which are required for any track to receive accreditation from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, the rules list testing threshold levels for drug contaminants and implement tougher penalties for drug offenses; a 116-pound minimum weight for jockeys not including sex or apprentice allowances; allow trainers to enter more than one horse in an overnight race as long as others aren't excluded; and allow for uncoupled entries in stakes.
One official said the revised rules of racing, which have been in the works for more than a year, required give and take. Nationally, industry officials responded favorably to the changes.
“We commend the West Virginia legislature for its recognition that pre-race examinations are vitally important to help ensure the safety of both human and equine athletes,” safety alliance executive director Mike Ziegler said. “Pre-race exams are mandatory for alliance accreditation and should be implemented at every racetrack for every horse in every race.”
West Virginia deputy attorney general Kelli Talbott, who handles West Virginia Racing Commission business, said Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races has been performing the exams for several months, though they aren’t yet required by statue or rules.
Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said he worked “extensively” with Talbott and the WVRC to upgrade medication rules so they are more closely aligned with RMTC model rules.
“As I understand it, the mandate when this started was to update the West Virginia rules to conform as close to as possible with the model rules—and not just medication—which is what I tried to help them do,” Waterman said. “It was an enormous project but I believe the final product brings West Virginia in line with the majority of (RMTC model rules for medication).”
Some horsemen said they believe the proposed medication rules go too far and could threaten West Virginia racing.
“Our commission and their attorney believe that they know what’s best for the men and women and horses of our business and not the partnership industry that I believe we should have, much like a three-legged stool with horsemen, racetracks, and government making up those legs,” one individual said.