The United States Trotting Association, citing differences in breeds, said Sept. 26 it has ended its membership in the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and has rejected the proposed national model rules on uniform medication standards.
The USTA Executive Committee said it voted unanimously to leave the RMTC and reject the model rules pushed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. The organization said it has contributed more than $1 million to the RMTC the past 10 years.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, the USTA in a release said it will ask RCI to maintain the current medication policies in effect for Standardbred racing.
RMTC chairman Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, in a late-afternoon statement said: "We are disappointed with the decision by the USTA to reject the RCI model rules and withdraw from the RMTC. The USTA was among the 24 organizations that actively participated in a multi-year scientific research program that led the horse racing industry to the establishment of uniform national model rules for medication, penalties and testing."
Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and a driving force for reform in the Mid-Atlantic region, said he doesn't believe the USTA's defection will impact the movement toward uniformity, though he did note a few states have separate racing commissions for Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing.
"We have carefully considered the RCI proposals and have come to the conclusion that the physical characteristics of the breeds are significantly different," USTA president Phil Langley said in the release. "Trying to fit them together makes little sense. We believe both breeds, Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, will benefit from having rules concentrated solely on their needs.
"Many safeguards now in use in harness racing would never be acceptable to the more high-strung Thoroughbreds, including Lasix barns, two-to-four-hour paddock times, and racing on a weekly basis. On the other hand, both the frequency that Standardbreds race and the lack of catastrophic breakdowns in harness racing make the utilization of some therapeutic medications much different between the breeds.
"After studying these proposed rule changes, it is apparent to us that they are entirely focused on the needs of Thoroughbreds with little consideration for Standardbreds."
Several states, including most in the Mid-Atlantic region, have adopted or said they will adopt the uniform model rules on medication. They are standard for all breeds of racehorses; it remains to be seen how the USTA action will affect those states.
Industry sources said the issue came up at the most recent RMTC board meeting in September. They said one concern expressed by the Standarbred industry was the longer withdrawal time for the broncholilator clenbuterol, which apparently is administered for therapeutic reasons a day or two after a Standardbred races; with a week or even two between races, it's problematic.
RCI president Ed Martin called the development "unfortunate."
"RCI continues to rely on the scientific review process at the RMTC involving key regulatory advisers who are actively involved with the regulation of both Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing as well as the (American Association of Equine Practitioners)," Martin said. "Unfortunately, the USTA has removed itself from discussions involving those recommendations before they are sent to the RCI.
"We understand that there is a debate over clenbuterol, but note that there are alternatives to treat a Standardbred horse post race that will better accommodate the Standardbred business model without creating a back door to steroidal type effects. We have also heard that some are advocating a liberalization of the recommended policy pertaining to corticosteroid use.
"The AAEP has advised that the use of these drugs in a limited way can be helpful to the horse but the overuse may be detrimental. The policy we have recommended recognizes this."
"In particular, the USTA objected to RMTC recommendations for the use of clenbuterol and corticosteroids, but these recommendations are the result of scientific research and ensure these medications cannot be abused in any way," Waldrop said. "The scientific research, as well as current regulations in California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and other multi-breed jurisdictions, demonstrate that the uniform rules recommended by the RMTC and adopted by the RCI are the most effective way to ensure the safety of all race horses and the integrity of the sport, regardless of breed.
"The RMTC will not deviate from this path for any reasons not supported by the science."
The USTA said it supports uniform medication policies but believes they should be customized by breed.
"We want to make it very clear the USTA supports uniform rules, but we strongly believe they should be by breed," said Langley, who noted blood-doping, out-of-competition testing, and shock-wave therapy "are high on the list of USTA research projects."
Langley said the USTA believes the industry's funds "can be better spent on research and testing in areas more concentrated on harness racing."