Officials Cite Progress Made in Drug Testing

Progress is being made on the drug-testing front, officials said Aug. 22.

Laboratories that test samples for the presence of drugs in California, Delaware, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and other states have signed letters of intent to submit to accreditation via the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

Lab accreditation focusing on quality assurance and proficiency is a major aspect of the plan put forth by the Drug Testing Initiative Committee, which was formed after the 2008 Jockey Club Round Table. The plan was revisited Aug. 22 at this year’s Round Table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association chief executive officer Alan Foreman, involved in medication and drug-testing issues for years, called the development a major step. He said Thoroughbred racing samples tested by the five labs account for 60% of total pari-mutuel handle and 50% of total purses in the United States.

Foreman also said action on recommendations of laboratory consolidation “already are under way,” but he wouldn’t comment further. The drug testing committee has determined having a double-digit number of testing labs is inefficient.

Meanwhile, The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee adopted several recommendations, including a change in the testing threshold level for phenylbutazone—commonly called “Bute”—from five micrograms per milliliter to two micrograms per milliliter not less than 24 hours prior to post time. The RMTC earlier endorsed the reduction; one state, Pennsylvania, already has approved the change.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International will consider a model rule on the Bute change in September.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association opposes the change.

“The hysteria over this modest reduction is overblown,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. “All but a handful of trainers already meet the (lower threshold).”

The call for a lower testing threshold for Bute came about after regulatory veterinarians said the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, basically a pain-killer, is masking their ability to perform pre-race exams and assess the condition of horses.