Anne M. Eberhardt

FL Legislature Holds Fate of Drug Reforms

Horsemen said they are united on plan, working to push lawmakers to pass rules.

Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse stakeholders in Florida said they are united in backing the National Uniform Medication Program, but its fate lies with the state legislature.

United Florida Horsemen, a partnership that works on legislative and regulatory issues, said agreement on the equine medication program was reached in early April. Florida horsemen earlier were labeled as holdouts in endorsing the plan, which includes the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule and a new penalty system for violators.

Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Kent Stirling said April 23 the issue is reluctance by lawmakers to open state racing law to include the new drug policy.

"We've pretty much been told they're trying to back-door it in," Stirling said. "The problem is if you open (the law), everyone starts trying to add other stuff to it."

Parameters for adoption of the National Uniform Medication Policy vary from state to state. Some can adopt the rules by reference; others have to go through the legislative approval process.

"We can't adopt rules willy-nilly down here," Stirling said.

Florida's 2014 legislative session ends May 2. Meanwhile, The Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream Park in Florida, plans to implement house rules tied to medication, integrity, and equine welfare, but also placed a deadline on adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program.

"In order to be effective, these reforms must be adopted and implemented by all racing states no later than Sept. 1, 2014," the company said earlier in April. "If this deadline is not met, The Stronach Group will work together with other concerned industry stakeholders to begin aggressively lobbying for federal legislation containing the same reforms outlined in the proposed National Uniform Medication Program."

The situation in Florida may not be resolved by the end of August. When asked what happens next, Stirling said he isn't sure.

"I have no clue," he said. "I couldn't understand why they'd put a date in the sand you can't live up to."

Stirling said the national program, in alignment with the house rules, would "set the standard for true uniformity for (other jurisdictions) that have yet to come on board."