The outgoing chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International said it is "vitally important" racing jurisdictions adopt the National Uniform Medication Program as soon as possible.
Duncan Patterson, chairman of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, outlined the program April 1 during the Racing Officials Accreditation Program conference in Delaware. RCI president Ed Martin also addressed the group via video.
Patterson said the medication program, which includes a penalty system designed to weed out repeat offenders, should be looked at by regulators as an equine health and welfare issue. He mentioned the video recently released by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the group's related allegations of mistreatment and abuse of Thoroughbreds.
"What it has done in my opinion has pushed us as commissions and you as stewards to do something," Patterson said. "There is more pressure now to make things better. Most of us know 99% of horses are better taken care of than we take care of ourselves. But the perception is that horses are mistreated and abused with drugs. It's why the National Uniform Medication Program is vitally important."
Patterson also commented on a lengthy statement issued March 28 by Ogden "Dinny" Phipps, chairman of The Jockey Club, in response to the PETA allegations currently under investigation by three states.
"Dinny Phipps' response to the (PETA) video basically said if the industry doesn't get its act together The Jockey Club will push for federal intervention," Patterson said. "I can't blame Mr. Phipps for advocating that. We have got to get together and work to make sure the sport is cleaned up in the eyes of the public."
Patterson believes progress has been made on the uniform medication front. He said of 35 jurisdictions in the United States, a survey by RCI shows 27 of them have approved the program, are in the process of doing so, or have indicated they plan to move forward with it.
Martin, who was in Ohio attending the United States Trotting Association meetings, on his video questioned attacks on horse racing in regard to its alleged widespread corruption. He used statistics from the United States Anti-Doping Agency—the organization that would take over medication in racing should a federal bill pass—as an example.
Martin said that during the 2014 winter Olympics, 2,061 drug tests produced six violations for prohibited substances, meaning 99.7% were clean. He said a survey performed by RCI on 320,000 samples taken from racehorses found 99.59% not in violation.
"It's very much in the same ballpark," Martin said. "It doesn't mean you catch everyone trying to cheat, but the real challenge for us is getting a handle on substances we don't know about or can't test for."
Martin said the Olympics allow therapeutic medication exemptions—or "doctors' notes," he called them—that allow athletes to compete under the influence of performance-enhancing substances.
"Consider this issue: Can you imagine if we did that in racing?" Martin said. "Can you imagine the number of applications for exemptions you would get? We're no better or worse than any other sport. The perception in racing is everybody is cheating. We often get that bum rap—especially from people inside of racing. And it doesn't happen the way some politicians would have you believe."
Martin said Thoroughbred racing addressed the issue of repeat offenders in the sport by incorporating the multiple medication violation penalty system in the National Uniform Medication Program. He said the MMV penalty system is patterned after federal sentencing guidelines.
"There is widespread belief we don't adequately punish repeat violators," Martin said. "We took those criticisms to heart to create this points system (for violations)."
RCI will hold its 2014 convention April 7-9 in Lexington. Uniform medication and penalties are expected to be discussed during the meetings.