Anne M. Eberhardt

Mid-Atlantic Moves Forward With Drug Reform

State rules have slowed the process, but no jurisdiction has backed away.

Racing jurisdictions concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions are finding progress to be a subjective term: Much has been accomplished, but much remains to be done.

About 40 industry stakeholders, primarily regulators and horsemen's representatives, met Jan. 30 at the White Clay Creek Country Club at Delaware Park for an update on adoption of uniform model rules on equine medication and drug testing. It was about a year ago the group first met to attempt to devise a regional plan that could serve as a national model.

The rules, which center on threshold levels and withdrawal times for 24 therapeutic drugs, third-party administration of race-day furosemide, standard testing at accredited laboratories, and a tougher penalty system based on points, have been embraced by all racing states in the region. Maryland had them on the books by Jan. 1, in time for the winter/spring meet at Laurel Park.

Things have moved more slowly in other states simply because of differences in how regulations are adopted. But two other states–Delaware and Virginia–expect to have the rules in place by the time live racing begins in the spring.

"It has been a year since we started this process," said Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "The last time the industry moved this quickly was for removal of (anabolic) steroids in racehorses. Regardless of whether this gets adopted anywhere else in the country, it works in the Mid-Atlantic. It's a perfect fit."

Representatives of racing jurisdictions provided progress reports. None indicated opposition to the uniform model rules, though they did portray a complicated regulatory and political structure that is more of a nuisance than an obstacle.

"We hope to have (the rules) adopted this year, but probably not in time for the Monmouth Park meet," New Jersey Racing Commission executive director Frank Zanzuccki said. "It's a very elongated process in New Jersey. Nothing goes before the racing commission until certain branches of state government OK it."

New Jersey, however, opted to begin third-party administration of furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix, via house rule.

"From all accounts it has been well-received," Zanzuccki said. "It's working; there have been very few issues associated with it."

The wait for adoption of the actual drug rules means New Jersey will continue to have threshold levels and withdrawal times that conflict with those in the model rules. For instance, the bronchodilator clenbuterol can be administered 72 hours before race time; in Maryland it's now 14 days, as it will be in Delaware and Virginia this year.

"We've made a lot of progress, but the process is taking longer than we thought it would," said John Forbes, president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "We're not dragging our feet."

Rick Goodell of the New York Gaming Commission said he believes the state will not adopt parts of the model rules piecemeal and instead handle them at the same time. Dr. Scott Palmer, equine medical director for the NYGC, said the organization is working through existing regulations and recommended changes.

"The process is moving forward," Palmer said "We're right in the middle of a lot of discussion right now."

In West Virginia, the model rules were approved by the West Virginia Racing Commission last year and are making their way through the state legislature now. Kelli Talbott, senior deputy attorney general for the WVRC, said the plan is to have the multiple violation penalty system–called MVP–approved in time to have it submitted as a rule for the 2015 legislative session.

Pennsylvania has approved the list of 24 therapeutic drugs, and third-party furosemide administration has been done at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course for some time. Dr. Corrine Sweeney, a member of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, said the furosemide policy will be enacted this year at Parx Racing and Presque Isle Downs & Casino.

The MVP system, she said, will require legislative change but could be in place by the of this year.

The penalty system, which relies on points maintained in an Association of Racing Commissioners International database, is key to the entire drug reform process, Foreman said.

"It's rubber-hits-the-road time," Foreman said. "If we're going to make it work, we have to act on (the penalty system). The whole system doesn't work if we don't do it."