Anne M. Eberhardt

Multi-Breed Drug Uniformity No Easy Task

Harness industry's concerns having some impact at regulatory level.

Amid another call for separate medication rules for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, the Ohio State Racing Commission has indicated it's not prepared to adopt a uniform national drug policy.

The United States Trotting Association in late September dropped out of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and also publicly rejected the proposed national model rules on medication developed by the RMTC and passed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. On Dec. 6 USTA president Phil Langley claimed the RMTC didn't accurately describe the USTA's position.

The RMTC recently issued a release stating there is no physiologic difference between breeds to warrant separate rules.

In a letter to RMTC chairman Alex Waldrop, Langley said the RMTC at a September meeting knew the USTA had requested to continue using the bronchodilator clenbuterol and corticosteroids as the harness industry has for years.

"There was no mention of more liberal usage and threshold levels," Langley said in his letter. "Plain and simple, we asked for the status quo of existing rules. The changes proposed for these medications were solely fueled by Thoroughbred problems."

The USTA is headquartered in Ohio, which the RMTC and National Thoroughbred Racing Association say is considering the model drug policy. OSRC chairman Robert Schmitz said Dec. 7 that information isn't accurate.

"We will not act on the resolution," Schmitz said. "We will not address the issue until accommodations are made to the USTA's concerns. We will not move forward on it until then. You know, harness racing is big up here."

Schmitz noted Thoroughbred horsemen also have concerns.

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association earlier this year questioned the proposed 14-day cut-off for clenbuterol administration as well as some of the proposed threshold levels and withdrawal times on a list of 24 drugs approved for therapeutic use. The Ohio HBPA, which represents horsemen at the state's three Thoroughbred tracks, expressed the same concerns.

Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler said Dec. 9 the national group and local affiliate have made their case known.

Standardbred interests in other states have said a 14-day cut-off for clenbuterol would interfere with horses racing every week to 10 days, which many of them do. They've been accused of putting the racing business model ahead of equine health and safety, but Langley in his letter said that's not the case.

"Clenbuterol has been used by harness horsemen and veterinarians as it was intended–post-race as an aid to bronchial problems," Langley said. "RMTC's 'proposed' regulations came about because the Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses decided to misuse it in place of anabolic steroids. (The) USTA did not request any liberalization of the existing rules.

"(The) RMTC proposed rule for a 14-day withdrawal time effectively eliminates the limited therapeutic use for Standardbreds who often race on a weekly basis and actually encourages steroidal abuse in Thoroughbreds."

As for corticosteroids, Langley said: "With regard to corticosteroids, our request was the same–the status quo. It has not been unusual for veterinarians to administer some of the corticosteroids therapeutically shortly after a race to help horses race to their ability a week later. This usage has been prescribed by qualified veterinarians and with the welfare of the horse being paramount."

Other major harness racing states, including Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania, are considering separate rules for the two breeds. The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council took no action on proposed changes to Standardbred medication regulations when it met Dec. 5.