The Jockey Club Aug. 10 acknowledged progress on the effort to adopt uniform medication and drug-testing rules on a state-by-state basis, but also said it will advocate on the federal level for assistance in the form of legislation.
The development was hardly unexpected. Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps addressed the same issue at last year's Jockey Club Round Table Conference. Earlier this year he said if sufficient progress on adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program had not been made by early August, the organization would call for action beyond the state level.
"At the end of the day we clearly need to do more," Phipps said during this year's Round Table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "We need to direct resources to develop a national legislative strategy that builds on our efforts to date. That broader strategy will include federal legislation and (developing a relationship) with the (United States Anti-Doping Agency).
"We fully realize federal legislation doesn't happen overnight, and there are unintended consequences that could open up Pandora's Box. But we believe it's the correct route to take. We appreciate the concerns and will proceed thoughtfully at all times."
The American Horse Council and National Thoroughbred Racing Association have said the chances of Congress taking up the issue are slim to none in the current Washington, D.C., environment. There also is no appetite among racetracks and horsemen's groups to open the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which governs interstate simulcast transmissions and rights.
The Jockey Club itself isn't high on federal involvement, either. So it intends to continue its push for state-by-state adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program but also "reach out to like-minded organizations to fund a strategy to develop a true national uniform medication program," Phipps said.
The organization is keenly interested in the USADA's involvement with medication and drug testing. USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart is meeting with the Water Hay Oats Alliance Aug. 11 in Saratoga to further explore the organization's involvement in horse racing.
It has become clear a major obstacle to national uniformity isn't the model rules but a lack of uniform protocol for laboratories that test equine blood and urine samples. Accreditation through the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium doesn't guarantee all samples are treated the same by every lab because contracts with regulatory agencies vary by state.
A recent study of 18 states by McKinsey and Co. showed great disparity. For instance, a test in one state costs $230, while a test in another costs $55. Clearly the labs aren't testing for the same drugs, and not all racing regulatory agencies are asking them to do so.
Dan Singer, senior partner and leader with McKinsey, said the research suggested a need for uniform lab procurement protocol in each state, as well as what he called double-line proficiency tests.
"Many states are completely silent on what they expect from a lab," Singer said. "We need a uniform set of specifications from states for testing labs."
According to sources, the RMTC is working to develop such a model policy in an attempt to standardize testing to facilitate uniformity.
Jockey Club vice chairman Stuart Janney III said the key to detection of substances in samples is the quality of labs and the tests they conduct. He suggested Association of Racing Commissioners International statistics that show more than 99% of tests come back clean may be misleading.
They took the quantity-over-quality approach," Janney said. "If the RCI is right, then we have no further work to do. But were the tests clean because the testing was not sufficient or because the timing was too obvious?
"Those who look at the numbers believe that given enough time we will achieve uniformity. I wish I did, but it's a stretch to consider this uniformity. I consider myself an optimist, but we are where (other sports) have been, and we need to go where they are."
The racing industry spends $28 million to $30 million a year for the drug-testing currently conducted. A national drug-testing program would require more money, but The Jockey Club indicated the funds should come from purses, not the betting public through a pari-mutuel hike.
Phipps said expanded, centralized testing could be supported by 2% of annual purse distribution and used the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association as an example. The organization gets 2% from video lottery terminal revenue to fund operations and various programs for horsemen, backstretch workers, and racehorse retirement.
He said the extra cost would amount to the price of a race-day furosemide injection and a vitamin jug given to horses.
"As is the case with any initiative created, embraced or supported by The Jockey Club, we will do what we think is in the best interest of this industry," Phipps said. "This is, and will continue to be, a serious, multi-pronged effort to achieve the reform we need."
As for furosemide, the anti-bleeding drug also known as Salix or Lasix, it didn't get a lot of play at the Round Table despite the release of a list of 25 trainers who support a phase-out of its use on race day and the resulting opposition from numerous horsemen's groups. Phipps did say the industry needs to eliminate use of all medication on race day, but The Jockey Club has taken that position for years.