Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Dr. Scot Waterman Executive Director
Racing Medication and Testing Consortium

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dr. Scot Waterman, who is executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC), received his veterinary degree from the University of Illinois College Of Veterinary Medicine in 1990. After spending eight years as a private small animal practitioner, he redirected his career, graduating with honors from the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program in May 2001. While completing his final semester, he began working for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force.

The mission of the RMTC, as stated on their website: "Striving to develop, promote and coordinate, at the national level, policies, research and educational programs that seek to ensure the fairness and integrity of racing and the health and welfare of racehorses and participants, and to protect the interests of the racing public."

Dr. Waterman co-authored the Task Force's Supertest Report, which was released in May 2002. Early in 2002, he worked to facilitate the development of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and February 2003 was named the organization's first executive director. He was awarded the North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association's Winner's Circle Award in April 2004 and received the John K. Goodman Alumni Award from the Arizona Race Track Industry Program in December 2005.

Dr. Waterman was born in Milton, Florida, on July 25, 1966. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife, Amy. He is also involved in the Thoroughbred industry as an owner and as a breeder.

Harrisburg, PA:
There are trainers in the Mid-Atlantic winning at 35-40%. Everyone who is in the business believes this isn't possible without using EPO. What is the status on an affordable test for EPO and do you think there will ever be out-of-competition testing for EPO - IE, do you think each horse could be required to have a random EPO test in the last 30 days while racing?

Waterman:
There is a screening and confirmation test available to laboratories for EPO. The screening test is relatively affordable. The confirmation test is relatively expensive but you would only go to that step if the screening test indicated a potential positive test. To eliminate a drug like EPO, out of competition testing is crucial. The RMTC and RCI developed model rule language for out of competition testing and I think you will see more states put a program in place this year. California has been sampling out of competition for a number of months now and the Breeder's Cup did as well prior to the event in 2007.

Lexington, KY:
Do you think - as a group- most racetrack veterinarians are honest and play by the rules?

Waterman:
In a word, Yes.

Lexington, KY:
Do you as a veterinarian feel that there a legitimate therapeutic uses for anabolic steroids in horses?

Waterman:
There are anabolic steroids that are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for use in horses so the answer to the generic question is yes; there are legitimate therapeutic uses for anabolic steroids in horses. The RMTC Board, however, does not feel there is a legitimate therapeutic use for an anabolic steroid in a horse that is race fit and within 30 to 45 days of a race.

Lexington, KY:
It seems that the focus of medication regulation has descended upon long used therapeutic medications and has strayed from the assault upon patently illegal unorthodox medications. When anabolics and corticosteroids are stringently controlled it drives individuals toward the designer steroids, cobra venom and cone snail venoms which are undetectable. Why not leave the traditional medications alone and go after the truly harmful ones? And why have we not seen any aranesp and EPO positives?

Waterman:
While press coverage may make it seem as though the sole focus is on therapeutic medications that simply is not the case. The RMTC has funded research projects aimed at developing tests for EPO and cone snail venom and has expended resources obtaining and analyzing various products acquired from backstretches across the country. Plus, there are therapeutic medications that when used improperly, are potentially as damaging as the illegal medications you mentioned, so they do not deserve a free pass. There were positives called for EPO in Ontario last year. As more states begin to sample out of competition horses, I believe you will see more positives.

Orange County, CA:
Why can't the United States adopt similar medication rules to those that are in place in Europe? What are the differences in medications allowed here vs. there?

Waterman:
There is nothing that prevents states in the US from adopting similar medication rules to those in place in Europe. Rightly or wrongly, the U.S. has a different philosophy that has developed over a period of time towards some therapeutic medications. The main difference is that furosemide is permitted on raceday in the U.S. and generally is a 24-hour drug in Europe. One non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug is usually allowed at 24 hours in the U.S., while in Europe the administration of NSAIDs is pushed out much further from the race. Anabolic steroids used to be another major difference although the model rule states are now adopting brings us much closer to the rest of the world. Most other medications are actually regulated very similarly and believe it or not, there are therapeutic medications that can be administered closer to the race in European countries than many U.S. states.

St. Louis,MO :
I realize that the whole aspect of medication for Thoroughbreds in training is complicated but isn't the European and Japanese restrictions a much cleaner solution? Also don't you believe that there has to be some unification among the different state racing authorities to bring this whole mess under control both from prohibiting performance enhancing or detracting drugs and enforcing punishments for violators?

Waterman:
Please see my previous answer regarding international medication rules. At the 30,000 foot level the European and Japanese approaches look cleaner but I can tell you from experience that they struggle with the same issues we do in terms of drugs of therapeutic benefit to the horse and when to withdraw them in order to preserve the integrity of the race. These are universal issues. Yes, I do believe that there must be uniformity among state jurisdictions. The RMTC has worked diligently on a uniform national medication policy since its inception and we have made more progress towards this goal than anyone in the industry thought we would when the RMTC began. We still have a ways to go but we'll keep at it.

Jupiter, FL:
Glad to see you on here! I have watched the racing industry for over 30 years- and participated as well as an owner. Why don't you just ban drugs ALL TOGETHER- and let the best horse win?

Waterman:
All of our efforts aim to ensure that the best horse will win on talent and horsemanship alone. We have not made recommendations to ban all medications because that would be unfair to the horse. They are animals that perform for our enjoyment and deserve the best veterinary care possible. What we strive to do is allow the judicious use of veterinary care while at the same time protect the integrity of the race. That is sometimes a difficult balance to attain but we always try to err on the side of the horse.

Chicago, IL:
What is the leading opposition in uniting and coordinating your efforts? How do you plan to overcome them and unite such a niche focused industry?

Waterman:
The primary opposition has come from some horsemen and veterinarians who believe that race day therapeutic medications are necessary in today's demanding year-around racing schedule. I think this opposition is on the decline as many horsemen realize that the RMTC is their best opportunity to get uniform regulation with more accurate withdrawal times for the therapeutic medications. The crucial issue we must overcome, however, is adoption of uniform model rules and penalty guidelines in 38 pari-mutuel states. The Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) has been very supportive in urging the individual states to speed up and stay uniform in their individual state adoption processes. We need more support is from owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, track management, vets, bettors and racing's fan base to locally encourage their state racing commission to pass the RMTC recommended model rules and guidelines.

Memphis, TN:
Dr. Waterman, thank you for your great work. What is your position about: 1) banning corticosteroids 2)reforming claiming races by first not allowing that many drugs to make sore horses appear sound?

Waterman:
Thanks. The RMTC will more than likely begin looking closely at the issue of corticosteroids this year. They will be a difficult due to the number of different formulations and routes of administration, but we need to begin the process. The RMTC has not delved into the specifics of claiming races but the Welfare and Safety Summit has, and I would refer you to their website for more information on some of the ideas being tossed around.

Louisville, KY:
Thank you for taking our questions. As a former Thoroughbred owner and as a lifelong player the mission statement of RMTC is refreshing. However, it does seem that a number of high profile trainers are using more than hay, oats and water to win races. These high profile trainers receive positives and seem to escape unscathed. What can be done to make the penalty fit the crime?

Waterman:
The RMTC spent an enormous amount of time studying the issue of penalties. We believe the guidelines we developed that are contained in the current version of the model rules are fair and transparent and allow stewards and commissions to ensure 'the penalty fits the crime.' The penalties are significant for drugs of no therapeutic benefit to the horse and allow stewards and commissions to employ aggravating or mitigating circumstances to let the penalty fit the evidence in the case. The penalty guidelines now include potential sanctions for the licensed owner and mandatory periods of time the horse would be ineligible to run depending on the specific drug found. You can access the current version the model rules at the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program website at www.ua-rtip.org.

San Buenaventura, CA:
An extremely high profile meet just concluded in Dubai with U.S.A.-based horses winning and/or placing in many of the races. How tough are the pre and post race testing standards abroad?

Waterman:
No country that I am aware does a significant level of pre-race testing, it is almost entirely post-race. In terms of the capabilities of the foreign testing labs they are generally quite good. We have labs in this country that are just as capable though so if there was something to find in a sample in Dubai there is no doubt in my mind that labs in the US would find it as well.

Arnold, MO:
Keeneland is one track that points out that horses are running with "Lasix adjunct". Some other tracks mention that horses are running with "Amicar". According to the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association's Racing Rules and Revisions, Amicar as well as "Kentucky Red", tranexamic acid and conjugated estrogens are all adjunct bleeder medications which may be used with Lasix. Would you please discuss these additional medications and of what value knowledge of their use is to the handicapping process.

Waterman:
Adjunct bleeder medications are a group of drugs that anecdotally are thought to benefit horses that "bleed through" furosemide. That is, horses who despite being on Lasix, for example, still experience exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). We are currently funding research to determine whether these drugs are beneficial or not. Personally, in my own handicapping, I have not seen any substantial benefit to the form of the horse when on an adjunct so I tend to ignore the "A." Please draw your own conclusions when wagering your hard earned money, however!

New York, NY:
Is the threat of federal regulation of equine medication real or perceived? If it's real, how will the industry respond?

Waterman:
The threat is definitely real. The Federal Government is looking seriously at some strategy to regulate drugs in racing as they also are in other sports. Racing is somewhat vulnerable due to the fact that the Interstate Horseracing Act, which governs simulcasting, is federal legislation and is under the purview of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection House Subcommittee, giving the Feds an entry point. I suspect there will likely be some sort of legislation introduced in the not too distant future; the response will be entirely dependent on what the legislation says.

Joplin, MO:
How is the RMTC being funded? What is the latest funding plan?

Waterman:
RMTC's original funding came from various racing industry organizations such as The Jockey Club, American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), Untied States Trotting Association (USTA), Keeneland Association, Oak Tree Racing Association, Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (THA), and many more tracks and several horsemen's associations. Since that time a number of other organizations such as the Hambletonian Society and Harness Tracks of America have become actively involved. Most importantly, more tracks and state horsemen's associations have agreed to a per start fee to help fund RMTC. In 2008, we are asking every track and horsemen's association to provide $1 per start, which is certainly not a lot to ask, but adds up to quite a sum if everyone would participate. The RMTC is a 501(c) (3) charitable corporation, so we also encourage contributions from individuals.

Louisville, KY:
Regulatory agencies like the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority are hurting for funding. What role does that play in sufficient race-day drug testing?

Waterman:
Excellent question. It can not only affect the amount of money devoted to testing (Kentucky may be a bad example since unlike many states, the tracks pay for testing), but it also impacts personnel critical to integrity matters such as commission veterinarians, investigators and even the resources available to adjudicate and prosecute cases. Racing is just not as big a priority with state legislatures as it used to be when it comes to doling out state general funds, but the costs to maintain the integrity of a race continue to increase. Racing fans who are registered voters can certainly help by making it known to their state legislators how important these issues are to them.

Tulsa, OK:
A lot has been accomplished since the RMTC was launched, but some people say it moves too slowly. What is your response to that? How much is involved in getting even one jurisdiction to adopt model medication rules?

Waterman:
I like to use the word "measured" but I'll grant you slow. These are complex issues and with as many stakeholders as we have at the table it really can't happen any other way. I think if we tried to move faster we would actually wind up moving slower. Like everything else, the amount of work involved in getting a state to adopt a model rule varies tremendously from state-to-state. It can be an arduous several year process in some states, depending on the individual state's rule making process and the level of support from stakeholder groups inside the state. We have had other states adopt the model rules in a matter of months without any significant obstacles.

Ocala, FL:
What is being done about anabolic steroids in sale yearlings?

Waterman:
The RMTC is focused on racing so we have not taken an active role in the discussion on anabolic steroids in yearlings. There are several initiatives that the sales companies are putting in place but I would refer you to them for the details.

Dallas, TX:
How can banning only four anabolic steroids help the industry or horses?

Waterman:
First of all, only four anabolic steroids are permitted under the model rule in very small concentrations. In order to comply with the rule, if an anabolic steroid has been administered, there will need to be a 30-45 withdrawal period. That is long enough to ensure that the horse will not compete under the effect of the anabolic steroid. The rest of the anabolic steroids are prohibited to appear in a sample at any concentration.

Des Moines, IA:
It's rumored the anabolic steroid detection blood test developed in Iowa isn't working well, do you care to comment?

Waterman:
As far as I know, Iowa has been testing urine samples and not blood for the presence of anabolic steroids. They have been testing samples since 1991 and in speaking with their regulators and scientists; they feel their testing scheme provides the appropriate deterrent effect.

White House, TN:
What are the most common medications found in young racehorses (legal or otherwise)?

Waterman:
This is an impossible question to answer specifically; however, the majority of legal medications used are to treat respiratory disease, gastric ulcers and musculoskeletal injuries. Young horses may also require some "mental" help as they adjust to the racetrack environment.

Nashville, TN:
Dr. Waterman, we hear quite a bit about drugs in Thoroughbred racing. Do harness (and Quarter Horse) tracks face the same issues?

Waterman:
Yes, all horse racing industries face the same integrity issues as do all other competitive sports and anywhere there is purse money and notoriety on the line. There was just recently a positive test reported in competitive billiards for an "EPO masking agent."

La Jolla, CA:
Are we ready to defend our results if we come up with a positive for a banned anabolic steroid?

Waterman:
Frankly, you never know the answer to this question until you are in court but given the 30-plus year history of science and testing for these drugs in the rest of the racing world I suspect the states will be able to mount a sufficient prosecution.

Versailles, KY:
Is federal testing at one or two labs the answer to standardization?

Waterman:
This is really three questions rolled into one. First, I'm not sure the federal government has any interest in running testing laboratories but I wouldn't rule out the possibility that they could be helpful to us in other areas. Second, we definitely have too many laboratories conducting post-race testing in this country. I can't say at this point what the right number is, but some consolidation would certainly make the system more efficient and we are currently looking at that. Standardization is impossible with 18 labs all receiving various levels of funding from the states but it becomes an approachable concept with smaller numbers and pooled resources.

Springfield PA:
Do you think a really substantial fine or suspension of the Vet or Trainer (Years) will be the only way to stop the drugs in the industry?

Waterman:
I think there will always be a small percentage of people who choose to cheat no matter what the penalty but there is no question that significant suspensions and fines can have a deterrent effect.

Lexington, KY:
As a Thoroughbred breeder and owner and as Executive Director of the RMTC, what are you feelings about the use of racetrack drugs on fillies and mares and their eventual use as broodmares?

Waterman:
I have not had any direct experience with this but anecdotally I have heard that it can be difficult to get some fillies and mares retired off the track in foal that first year. That may be due to the use of anabolic steroids, it may be due to the mental adjustment from athlete to 'mom' or a combination of factors. The good news is that for the most part, these difficulties appear temporary no matter the cause.

Irvine, CA:
On the West Coast circuit, with very few exceptions many of the top trainers here over the past several years have either been suspended for medication violations or vet bills than run in the thousands per month per horse..One look at these bills shows steroids under many different names. Is the day coming when this changes?

Waterman:
Yes. I think the movement to regulate the use of anabolic steroids, which is already well underway, will help significantly and we will also be doing work to develop a cohesive regulatory plan on corticosteroids as well.

Aurora, CO:
How will the new steroid restrictions affect field size in the short and long term?

Waterman:
I don't think you will see any change at all in the short-term. Long-term I'm hopeful (though I have no scientific data to support this) that we will lengthen some horse's careers by regulating these drugs. These are finely tuned animals and logic would tell you that if you increase muscle mass beyond what nature intended you might put abnormal stress on soft tissue and possibly even bone. It may be an unfair analogy but take a look at how many of the baseball players that were widely suspected of using anabolic steroids wound up on the disabled list multiple times.

Indianapolis, IN:
What classes, if any, in the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program, were helpful for your current position?

Waterman:
Honestly, all of them. The wonderful thing about the RTIP is that it gives you such a broad understanding of the industry through the class work and guest speakers. I would recommend it highly to anyone that thinks they want to make a living in this industry.

Birmingham, AL:
Can you explain something about the organization of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium? How many members? What are their backgrounds? How are they chosen?

Waterman:
The RMTC is governed by a board of directors that represent our 23 industry-wide stakeholder organizations. Each organization has the opportunity to elect up to two people as RMTC board members and is allowed one vote. We really have a wide range of knowledge, perspective and experience on our board, which gives me confidence in our work and a lot of pride in what we have been able to accomplish. Our board consists of owners, regulators, trainers, veterinarians, representatives of horsemen's groups and racetracks, researchers, etc., from the Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing communities.

Hillsdale, MI:
I'm curious about the horses you own. Do you monitor in any way the drugs/medications they receive?

Waterman:
Absolutely. As an owner, I feel as though I am responsible for the well being of the animals I own. I try hard to be a patient owner and always make decisions I feel are in the best interests of the horse both short-term and long-term. I own because I love being around Thoroughbreds'they are not simply commodities to me and if I ever start to think that way I'll get out of the business.

Nashville,TN:
What is a Milkshake in racing?

Waterman:
Milkshaking is the administration of an alkalinizing agent to a horse immediately before a race. The alkalinizing agents are typically weak bases such as sodium bicarbonate and can be administered orally or through a nasogastric tube directly into the horse's stomach. The theory behind it is that lactic acid is the cause of muscle fatigue and by neutralizing this acid with a base, the muscle will not fatigue as quickly and, therefore, the horse has more stamina. Milkshaking is prohibited and most jurisdictions test for the administration of such products.

York, PA:
As both an owner/breeder and vet, you seem to bring an interesting perspective to your current position as Executive Director of the RMTC. This debate seems to get pretty foggy at times -- do you think the whole issue of medication would be clearer to the lay-public like me if we began the debate by starting with the premise -- "do right by the horse"?

Waterman:
Yes, and that is the approach the RMTC always tries to take on these issues. Unfortunately, since horses can't talk to us we are guessing as to what is truly 'right by the horse' and there can be genuine differences of opinion as to what accomplishes that mantra best. That is part of the reason why medication issues have historically been difficult to reach consensus on.

LAST UPDATED: Thursday, April 10 @ 1:12 p.m. (ET)

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