USTA Creates Medication Advisory Committee

Harness racing intends to lobby for its own drug rules in major states.

The United States Trotting Association, which in late September dropped out of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and rejected model medication rules approved by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, has created its own Medication Advisory Committee.

The USTA, in a Nov. 7 announcement, said it seeks to "develop comprehensive proposals on the use of therapeutic medications and recommended penalties for violations in harness racing." The breed registry for Standardbreds has said the uniform national model rules for equine medication shouldn't be the same for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds for several reasons, including length of time between races.

The drug committee was appointed by USTA president Phil Langley.

"Recognizing that some of the fault was that the USTA lacked sufficient scientific representation on the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, I have appointed a widely representative advisory committee to guide us in future medication proposals," Langley said in a release.

Members of the USTA committee are Drs. George Maylin and Thomas Tobin; practicing veterinarians Drs. Jay Baldwin, Janet Durso, and William Moffett; trainers Mark Ford, Sam Beegle, Ray Schnittker, and David McCaffrey; racing commissioners Bob Schmitz of Ohio and Alan Leavitt of Kentucky; attorneys Joe Faraldo and Chris Wittstruck; racing investigator Brice Cote; Hambletonian Society president and chief executive officer Tom Charters; and Langley, Mike Tanner, and T.C. Lane of the USTA.

Leavitt, the lone Standardbred representative on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said Nov. 7 the decision to leave the RMTC, a group of 24 industry stakeholders, was in part based on a lack of Standardbred-specific drug research. He and others have said the focus should be on substances and practices that threaten the integrity of the sport.

"We intend to do our own research," Leavitt said in response to questions about the new advisory committee. "The decision (to leave the RMTC) was forced upon us because we didn't have enough scientific representation. We were driven to our position of leaving by the RMTC's refusal to be reasonable."

RMTC and RCI officials have said they told harness racing stakeholders the organizations would consider their position and continue research to determine if different rules for each breed are in fact warranted. At the time, RCI president Ed Martin called the USTA's defection "unfortunate."

Leavitt said he intends to make the USTA's case when the KHRC entertains the national model medication and penalty rules.

"My intent is to say harness racing should have its own regulations like Thoroughbred racing and Quarter Horse racing should have their own," Leavitt said. "I intend to fight until I'm the last man standing–but I am of course the only man."

Racing commissions in some of the states with extensive harness racing programs–Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania–have not yet adopted the uniform model rules or may have separate commissions to regulate harness racing. Leavitt said the Ohio State Racing Commission already has said it won't change its current Standardbred rules.

At the New York Gaming Commission meeting Nov. 4, an attorney indicated the desire by the Standardbred industry to have some different rules. Leavitt said such discussion "could foreshadow" what may occur in other jurisdictions.

An RCI committee that deals with harness racing issues only is scheduled to meet via teleconference Nov. 14. Leavitt, the committee chairman, indicated he expects some turmoil.

"It's a huge unpleasantness," he said. "The whole thing is so stupid. As far as harness racing is concerned there wasn't and isn't any problem. Harness racing is so much better regulated in North America than Thoroughbred racing."

Meanwhile, the USTA said it is working with Pennsylvania horsemen's groups to commission Drs. Larry Soma and Mary Robinson to conduct research on blood-doping agents, extracorporeal shock-wave therapy, and some of the unknown drugs "that most threaten the integrity of harness racing." They also are pursuing alternatives to the bronchodilator clenbuterol and the adjustment of threshold testing levels that can be used for Standardbreds.