by John Scheinman
The Maryland Racing Commission voted Feb. 19 to adopt a uniform equine medication, penalty, and testing program proposed for Thoroughbred and Standardbred racetracks throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, a plan spearheaded by the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
While announcing Maryland would become the first state in the region–which has the highest concentration of racetracks in the country–to commit to adopting the policy, the MRC said it will carefully study an implementation plan and timeline for adoption while considering issues that could arise along the way.
The implementation of medication uniformity and policy throughout the country has wide support from leading industry organizations including the Association of Racing Commissioners International, American Association of Equine Practitioners, The Jockey Club, and the Jockey's Guild. The effort in the Mid-Atlantic is considered a catalyst for reform.
"This is a recommended policy endorsed by all Mid-Atlantic jurisdictions in 2005," said THA chairman Alan Foreman, who has led the charge for uniformity. "We need to educate the public because we have such a bad reputation. I think this is monumental."
Under the Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program, drugs and medications would be divided into two categories: therapeutic and non-therapeutic. A list of 24 permitted medications, such as acepromazine and clenbuterol, has been established with recommended withdrawal times and penalties for violations. Non-therapeutic drugs would carry more severe penalties.
New withdrawal times are established for clenbuterol and corticosteroids, though enforcement would not begin until January 2014.
Under the rules, furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix, would become the only drug permitted within 24 hours of a race. It would have to be administered by a racing commission-designated veterinarian.
All testing laboratories in the Mid-Atlantic would have to be accredited. The Maryland lab currently is not.
"A positive (drug test) in Maryland is going to be a positive in Delaware and a positive in New York," Foreman said. "They're all going to have the same equipment."
While all stakeholders in attendance, including Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas and Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming Inc., voiced support for the program, a group of long-time veterinarians in the state rose to object to a rule that would ban all adjunct bleeder medications. Currently, Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana are the only states permitting adjunct bleeder medications.
Adjuncts "successfully stop 90% of exercised-induced pulmonary bleeding," said Dr. George Harmening, who works with Yergey, Stewart & Vallance. "Taking away adjuncts is a step back. It's not humane."
Foreman said exempting adjunct medications such as amicar was not open to negotiation in implementing the new uniformity program.
MRC chairman Bruce Quade asked Harmening: "If we're the only jurisdiction that allows adjuncts, what would you say if everyone outlawed it and we didn't?"
"If everyone jumps off a bridge, why should we?" Harmening responded. "If it saves a horse's life why eliminate it?"
Ultimately, Quade said the commission would step forward and back the overall framework of the program. The THA is seeking the commitment of all Mid-Atlantic racing commissions by March 1.
Quade said he would organize a subset of the racing commission to meet with stakeholders, including the vets and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, to set up a timetable for adopting and implementing the plan.
"Maryland is on board," Quade said.
Foreman has said he believed if Maryland got on board with the plan, Virginia would follow suit. He said the proposal was well-received in other states in the region.