Anne M. Eberhardt

Groups Step Up Call for Model Drug Rules

Reforms currently being adopted are designed to prevent overuse of medication.

Racing industry organizations have greatly stepped up their call for swift adoption of national model rules on medication and drug testing in the wake of investigations into allegations of mistreatment and over-medication of Thoroughbred racehorses.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals used an undercover investigator to infiltrate the operation of trainer Steve Asmussen and assistant Scott Blasi at Churchill Downs and Saratoga Race Course for four months last year. Documentation of the allegations, as well as video, were turned over to regulators in Kentucky and New York.

Much of the secret probe revealed the presence of legal therapeutic medication used in training or administered within a certain number of days before a race. The practice isn't uncommon, but the model rules devised by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and Association of Racing Commissioners International are designed to greatly reduce such drug regimens and create a treat-when-necessary environment.

"(Thoroughbred Racing Associations) members in 2012 voted unanimously to advocate the Uniform Medication and Penalty Model Rules, developed by the RMTC and RCI," the racetrack trade group said March 21. "By the end of 2013 those policies had been adopted by many of the leading racing states, and efforts continue to ensure unanimous adoption in the current year.

"The TRA urges all racing commissions to press for the immediate adoption of the model rules for the benefit of the sport, the racing public, and especially the racehorses in competition."

The TRA also commented on the allegations of mistreatment and rule violations, suggesting "swift and severe penalties" if proven true.

"Any allegations of mistreatment or callous disregard of the welfare and safety of horses and human participants should receive full investigation and prompt action," the TRA said.

The Jockeys' Guild weighed in as well on the subject of ensuring safety for riders through uniform drug rules and harsher penalties.

"Over the last several years the guild has worked with state racing commissions, RCI, RMTC, The Jockey Club, and the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance advocating for severe penalties for medication violations and supports tightening race-day medication rules," Jockeys' Guild national manager Terry Meyocks said. "Once the due process is completed, if any individual is found guilty of abuse, neglect or any other rule violation, they will suffer the consequences."

All but a handful of jurisdictions have banned race-day medication with the exception of the anti-bleeding drug furosemide, and many have mandated or will mandate administration of the substance by regulatory veterinarians. The practice already has been said to have reduced the presence of other therapeutic drugs in blood and urine samples taken from horses.

The RMTC has acknowledged beneficial use of many therapeutic substances, though its mission has been to greatly curtail their use close to race day.

Jockey Club president and chief operating officer Jim Gagliano noted the model rules process has been ongoing three years.

"Therapeutic (medications) are overwhelmingly the leading subject of regulatory rulings," Gagliano said on Twitter March 20. "Pain (medications) are the vast majority of these violations. Overuse of therapeutic medications is among the myriad issues addressed and deterred by National Uniform Medication Program."

PETA took the opportunity to again call for a ban on race-day furosemide, also known as Salix or Lasix. The group also is pushing for federal oversight of horse racing, something being pushed by some prominent owners and breeders but opposed by most industry organizations.

The Humane Society of the United States also responded to the allegations and resulting investigations. The group focused on the use of what it calls performance-enhancing drugs and also made a pitch for federal regulation through the stalled Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which was modified in 2013.

"This is yet another scathing expose of unacceptable abuses of horses, reckless use of performance-enhancing drugs and disregard for any meaningful ethical standards in the industry," HSUS president and chief executive officer Wayne Pacelle said. "It's apparent a blend of self-regulation and meager state regulation has been a colossal failure.

"If racing is to be cleaned up and the public's confidence restored, independent, national oversightwith meaningful penalties for violatorsis the only pathway. Congress should act now to pass legislation to rein in the abuses and finally hold the horse racing industry accountable."

The investigations could take time; no one has been charged with any violations.