RCI Considers 'One Strike, You're Out' Rule

Proposal targets licensees responsible for putting harmful substances in horses.

The board of directors of the Racing Commissioners International (RCI) has voted to direct its committees to develop a "one strike, you're out" proposal for licensees found responsible for putting substances in horses that might endanger the animals.

Under an approach outlined by RCI President Ed Martin, not only licensed trainers, but also owners who fail to monitor their trainers and the veterinarians who provide or facilitate the administration of such substances could be subject to exclusion. In addition to racing license revocation, complaints would also be filed with law enforcement for possible violations of animal cruelty statutes.

The RCI regulatory veterinarians committee has been instructed to compile a list of substances that, if found in a horse during drug testing, would warrant this type of response. The committee chairperson, Dr. Lynn Hovda of the Minnesota Racing Commission, suggested that the presence of some therapeutic substances (e.g. clenbuterol) at excessive levels should also be considered.  

Current RCI Model Rules recommend a first-time penalty for the most egregious drug violation of a 1-to-3-year suspension and a $10,000 to $25,000 fine. A license revocation recommendation currently does not apply until the second offense with aggravating circumstances.

"There is general consensus among the regulators that these guidelines do not deter those who would use things that endanger our horses. This will be changed," predicted Martin.

The RCI board also agreed in principle with a proposed procedure in which veterinarians believed to be overusing legal medications in inappropriate ways would be referred to those agencies with the power to review their actions and revoke their license to practice veterinary medicine.

"RCI is clearly concerned about reports of the overuse and possible abuse of legal medications and believe that this is where the hole is in the racing regulatory scheme," Martin said. He noted that racing commissions do not have jurisdictional authority over the practice of veterinary medicine.

While endorsing the concept, the RCI board deferred action on a specific protocol proposed by Martin based upon concerns raised by the regulatory veterinarians committee. The committee was instructed to suggest modifications and instruct the Model Rules committee to consider how best to handle such referrals at its next meeting, currently scheduled for Dec. 6, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz.

In other actions, the RCI board adopted the following Model Rule revisions.

A requirement was approved that written logs be maintained by racetrack security personnel noting the names and license numbers of those individuals who enter the backstretch of racetracks between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.

New restrictions on the use of Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy machines and the imposition of a one-year suspension and $10,000 fine for rule violations. Aggravating factors could increase the penalty to a three-year suspension and $25,000 fine as well as a 90-day exclusion of the horse from racing. ESWT machines would be registered with the commission and the location and hours of treatments required to be approved.

Horses treated by veterinarians with ESWT would be ineligible to race or train for 10 days following the day of treatment. Treatments must be reported to the official veterinarian, and horses treated would be placed on an "ineligible list" maintained in the race office and accessible to practicing veterinarians and jockeys.

The RCI board also voted to accelerate review of the proposed "Reform Medication Rules" submitted by The Jockey Club and created a task force to assess the recommended thresholds and withdrawal times.

"We appreciate the proposal that The Jockey Club has made and view it as a good first step that is in need of some strengthening in certain areas," Martin noted. "There is general agreement among the regulators to develop stronger penalties and to provide a level of deterrence to those veterinarians who may be pressured to do things they know in their heart they should not."