Efforts to eliminate race-day medication and a federal bill that aims to create a national standard for medication use in Thoroughbred racehorses were the key topics discussed by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association board of trustees during an April 10 meeting in Lexington.
The well-attended 2 1/2-hour meeting resulted in one vote and a reinvigorated commitment to do more to address the highly divisive issue of allowing the race-day administration of the anti-bleeder drug Salix. The board unanimously reaffirmed its support for TOBA’s American Graded Stakes Committee pushing forward to eliminate race-day Salix use in all U.S. juvenile graded stakes.
Last August the TOBA board endorsed, though not unanimously, an AGSC pilot program that banned race-day Salix use in all 2-year-old graded stakes in 2012. If the ban was ignored, the race risked losing its graded status. In the past, the AGSC has tied the adoption of various policies, such as total carbon dioxide testing, to the retention of a race’s graded status. Total carbon dioxide testing is done to determine whether a horse has been given a “milkshake” prior to a race, a sodium bicarbonate solution that reduces fatigue-causing lactic acid in muscles.
The AGSC has since announced the pilot program will not be implemented in 2012.
“We had to recognize this wasn’t going to get done through the regulatory channels in 2012,” said Dan Metzger, president of TOBA. “But the policy has not been abandoned. The AGSC is pushing forward toward a prohibition of race-day medication in 2-year-old graded stakes.”
Metzger said the association polled members over the past couple weeks and found 77% supported the ban of race-day medication use in all juvenile graded stakes.
The board also discussed how owners could play a greater role in promoting the adoption of this policy, according to Metzger.
“Without getting into specifics, yes, there was discussion about how owners could affect change,” he said. “There will be considerable discussion and resources put toward that issue in the next several months.”
Alex Waldrop, the CEO and president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, was invited to speak to the board about a federal bill that proposes to create national medication policy, testing, and penalties by amending the Interstate Horseracing Act. The IHA is the federal law that legalizes interstate simulcasting.
The federal bill is sponsored by New Mexico Democrat Sen. Tom Udall and Kentucky Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield and has been endorsed by several owners and breeders.
Waldrop said the bill is well-intentioned but, as written, could create more problems than it will solve. Among the key problems: an overly broad definition of performance-enhancing substances; the ability for any individual to sue a racetrack or horsemen over suspected illegal activity; giving rule-making authority to the Federal Trade Commission.
“This bill does not have broad support and creates another, potentially very expensive, level of regulation,” Waldrop said a day after the TOBA board meeting. “We would be turning rule-making authority over to the Federal Trade Commission and, to my knowledge, it knows very little about horseracing.”
Opening up the Interstate Horseracing Act to changes carries additional risks, according to Waldrop.
“A bill like this could make us vulnerable to hostile forces that may want greater control or even seek to end horseracing,” he said. “We are not against any federal bill, but we are concerned about this bill. We would recommend that any bill not be an amendment to the IHA.”
Waldrop said it may be preferable to pursue separate legislation through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Aside from federal involvement, Waldrop said he told the TOBA board that progress is being made through the adoption of model rules drafted through the Association of Racing Commissioners International, albeit slowly.
“One of the things we are accomplishing with the accreditation process is requiring states to adopt the model rules,” he said about the NTRA’s Safety and Integrity Alliance program for racetracks. “Accredited racetracks are currently responsible for about 70% of handle.”
The Jockey Club released a set of reformed medication model
rules on March 30. The rules call for stiffer penalties; equine drug testing only by laboratories accredited by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium; stronger sanctions for repeat violators of medication rules; medication histories of all racehorses; surveillance of horses within 24 horses of a race; mandatory rest periods for horses that suffer exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage; publishing of administration and withdrawal guidelines for controlled therapeutic drugs; and “best practices’ for improved security and monitoring of horses. The rules also indicate a banning of race-day Salix use through a “transitional process.”
Waldrop said he was not prepared to discuss in detail how The Jockey Club’s proposed rules compare with the RCI’s existing model rules but stressed all these rules are working documents.
“The Jockey Club model rules are refinement on the model rules,” he said. “I cannot speak to them in total, but to the extent they offer tougher penalties, they would be an improvement.”