The West Virginia Racing Commission voted April 13 to ban the use of adjunct bleeder medications on race day and to adopt much stricter penalties for drug violations.
The action came as part of a discussion on proposed changes to rules governing Thoroughbred racing.
West Virginia is one of several states that permit the use of adjunct bleeder drugs in conjunction with race-day furosemide, also known as Salix or Lasix. The state allows three adjuncts: aminocaproic acid, tranexamic acid, and carbazochrome.
During discussions last year about the phase-out of furosemide, industry officials widely accepted a proposal to ban the use of adjunct bleeder medications. Some states already have done so.
“A small number of states do allow (use of the drugs), but they are in the process of getting rid of them,” said Kelli Talbot, deputy attorney general for the WVRC. “The handwriting is on the wall. We could be the only state in the country (using adjunct medications) if we don’t do something now.”
A committee of industry stakeholders in West Virginia has met regularly to discuss changes in racing rules. The parties had agreed to lower the amount of phenylbutazone—a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug known as Bute—permitted 24 hours before a race from 5 micrograms per milliliter to 2 micrograms. But it reached no consensus on adjunct bleeder drugs.
The WVRC unanimously approved the ban with no objections from those assembled for the meeting. There will be a 30-day public comment period, however, before the proposed rule changes are sent to the legislature for approval. The rules would take effect in 2013.
The tougher penalties for violators are those already in model rules adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. Talbot said the West Virginia penalty scale is “pretty weak” and should be changed to reflect the model rules used by other jurisdictions.
For instance, the fine for a Bute overage in West Virginia is $250. The model rule sets the fine at $500.
“We have top-tier purses in West Virginia but our penalties are bottom-tier,” WVRC chairman Joe Smith said. “I think racing in West Virginia might well be dependent on what we do on this matter.”
No stakeholders publicly opposed the change in penalties, which also is subject to a public comment period and approval by the state legislature.
“Anything you can do to allow the stewards to send a message is good,” said state steward Danny Wright, who is based at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. “We need to send the right message to people that want to do wrong. Right now that message isn’t there.”
The WVRC also voted to keep the minimum age at which racing participants are eligible for permits at 18. There had been discussion about lowering the age to 16.