In an announcement that figures to meet with disagreement with some horsemen’s groups and perhaps others, the outgoing and incoming leaders of the Association of Racing Commissioners International have called for a five-year phase-out of equine medication in horse racing.
Outgoing RCI chairman Dan Hartman of the Colorado Racing Commission said “a five-year phase-out is reasonable to bring North American racing policies in line with what is going on in other parts of the world like Europe and Hong Kong.” Hartman said a phased approach would give horsemen and owners sufficient time to adjust to the change.
New RCI chairman Willie Koester, chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, agreed with Hartman. RCI concluded its annual convention March 27 in New Orleans, and followed with a March 28 release on equine medication.
“Today over 99% of Thoroughbred racehorses and 70% of Standardbred racehorses have a needle stuck in them four hours before a race,” Koester said. “That just does not pass the smell test with the public or anyone else except horse trainers who think it necessary to win a race.
“I’m sure the decision-makers at the time meant well when these drugs were permitted; however, this decision has forced our jurisdictions to juggle threshold levels as horseman become more desperate to win races, and it has given horse racing a black eye.”
Horsemen’s groups repeatedly have said the damage to the industry has been created by “positive” calls for trace levels of accepted therapeutic medications. The RCI release made no mention of the use of therapeutic medications for training, which also occurs in overseas jurisdictions.
RCI president Ed Martin said the membership gathering in New Orleans was largely receptive to a major overhaul of medication policies. Koester said “change is inevitable,” and he called for RCI “to take the moral high ground and implement drug rules that mirror the racing in Australia, Dubai, Europe, Hong Kong, and even Russia.”
In recent years RCI has based its medication policies largely on recommendations from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which was formed to develop consensus on medication and improve drug-testing practices. A shift toward “zero tolerance” would mark a departure from that policy.
The RMTC counts among its membership horsemen’s representatives, equine medical directors, and veterinarians. Horsemen in particular have said there is no such thing as zero tolerance given the use of therapeutic drugs for training and environmental contamination from illegal substances.
Hartman told RCI members “regulators are the only voice in racing for the animals and betting public. It’s time we raise the bar in service to both.”
Various industry officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on the RCI position.