The National Uniform Medication Program wasn't on the agenda at the recent American Horse Council convention, but progress on that front was addressed during forums and in conversations among attendees.
State-by-state adoption of model medication rules and the companion multiple medication violation penalty system continues around the country. On June 27 the Indiana Racing Commission updated the list of controlled therapeutic substances to 26 and also adopted updates to the penalty system; earlier in June the Maryland Racing Commission adopted the penalty system for medication violations.
During the AHC National Issues Forum June 24 in Washington, D.C., New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association president Rick Violette said he's optimistic about the industry despite a declining foal crop and decreases in pari-mutuel handle. He noted the earlier banning of anabolic steroids on race day, as well as progress on racehorse aftercare and the National Uniform Medication Program as reasons for optimism.
"There are really good things going on in racing, but we forget about them or leave them in mid-sentence," Violette said. "Eighty-eight percent of national handle is committed to (uniform medication rules). There are a few major racing states that need a kick in the butt, but we're light years ahead of where we were."
Violette suggested not enough is being done in the industry to show progress on the medication front, and also hinted at the belief by some that individuals in the industry may have helped push the controversial undercover barn investigation performed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals last year.
"What has got to stop is this railing against the industry," Violette said. "We constantly stop to shoot ourselves in the foot. It's not OK to constantly go out there and aid and abet the enemy. (Industry) leaders need to pull together and march to the same drum."
Scott Wells, president and general manager of Remington Park Racing & Casino in Oklahoma, said he has spoken to owners who pay $1,800 in veterinary bills every time their horse races. Though the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission has thus far opted not to pursue the National Uniform Medication Program, Wells urged every jurisdiction to do so.
"That's just a crime," Wells said of expensive vet bills for pre-race medication. "Owners end up leaving the sport. People will feel better about owning horses when they don't feel that they are being beaten by cheaters."
Another forum panelist, American Association of Equine Practitioners president Dr. Jeff Blea, also commented on uniform medication.
"We're closer than we've ever been," he said. "It's good for the industry and good for the horse."
Jockey Club president and chief operating officer Jim Gagliano, in his presentation on smaller foal crops and how they impact the business, said a primary focus of The Jockey Club is reducing risks that damage the brand of Thoroughbred racing, such as equine neglect and overuse of medication.
"We will maintain this as a very high priority," he said.
The Jockey Club in the spring issued a statement from chairman Ogden "Dinny" Phipps that said the organization would pursue federal involvement in equine medication and drug testing if the industry fails to make substantial progress on adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program. An update on the matter is expected at the Aug. 10 Jockey Club Round Table conference.
In response to a follow-up question after the AHC meeting, Gagliano acknowledged progress but indicated a lot remains to be done.
"While there has been some important progress on the medication reforms, as clearly evidenced by the objective information available at horseracingreform.org, the fact of the matter is that we are still a ways away from uniformity of rules, penalties, and lab standards," Gagliano said. "The permissive use of race-day medication is a long-term liability to the North American Thoroughbred industry, and that needs to be reconciled. It's that simple."
For Thoroughbred racing, the only permitted race-day drug is furosemide, the anti-bleeding medication known as Salix or Lasix. The use of adjunct bleeder medications on race day was phased out as part of the National Uniform Medication Program.
Threshold testing levels and recommended administration times for 26 commonly used controlled therapeutic drugs are intended to greatly reduce their impact on race day.