Changes made by the Association of Racing Commissioners International in regard to model medication rules led to an endorsement by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which includes a Florida affiliate that has been categorized as not being on board with uniform regulations.
The RCI board of directors approved the model rules changes April 8 during its conference in Lexington. Regulators altered withdrawal times and threshold testing levels for a few substances and added two drugs to the "Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule" to make for a total of 26 substances.
The RCI acted upon recommendations by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
"Horsemen across the country want just one thing, a level playing field, and that's what uniform medication is all about," Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling, who also serves as chairman of the National HBPA Medication Committee, said April 11. "Florida is 100% on board with that goal, and we'll continue with an open and frank dialogue with the RCI, The Jockey Club, and the RMTC as we move forward united toward that common end."
"The Florida horsemen are gratified to hear that RCI has displayed a willingness to step back and revise and update some of the important aspects of the medication model rules," Florida HBPA president Phil Combest said. "There is no question that uniform medication rules are one, if not the, most critical challenges to racing universally. That's why we have to get it right, and that's simply not an easy process."
The RCI board approved a recommendation by its Drug Testing Standards and Practices and Model Rules committees to remove the words "restricted administrative time" and replace them with "recommended withdrawal time" on the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule.
The board also reduced the regulatory testing threshold for the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ketoprofen from 10 nanograms per milliliter in plasma or serum to two nanograms per milliliter, and extended the withdrawal time for flunixen from 24 hours before a race to 32 hours.
The two drugs added to the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule are isoflupredone acetate, a corticosteroid that can be used for the treatment of allergic, musculoskeletal, and inflammatory ailments and has a seven-day withdrawal period; and albuterol, a bronchodilator some industry groups believe is an alternative to clenbuterol.
"The fact that RCI has been able to take a step back from where it was before, and making revisions based upon both scientific measures and veterinarian needs, represents a resurgence of reality-based rule-making," National HBPA chief executive officer Phil Hanrahan said in a release that also outlined the organization's position on medication regulation.
The National HBPA said the focus should be on the health and safety of equines and humans. It called for a "truly independent and transparent" RMTC "not dominated by an individual organization" as the final evaluator of medical and veterinary science. It wants review of all RMTC recommendations by RCI and believes drug rules must be based "solely on published scientifically-determined regulatory thresholds" and related literature. The HPBA also believes only accredited laboratories should conduct equine drug testing.
The umbrella horsemen's group also appears to support the multiple medication violation penalty system, a key part of the National Uniform Medication Program.
"The National HBPA does not tolerate cheating in this sport," the release said. "The National HBPA supports rules wherein repeat offenders of medication rules, after due process, should be severely penalized, including permanent expulsion from the industry."