Though studies have been completed to determine threshold levels for almost 20 therapeutic medications, it doesn’t mean the industry will know for certain whether the drugs can impact equine performance. And it remains to be seen whether racing commissions will adopt the testing levels.
The week of the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming ended like it began—with a discussion of equine drugs and testing methods. On Dec. 10, officials participated in one of the more candid public presentations on the subject.
Dr. Robert Lewis, president of Elgin Veterinary Hospital and past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium accomplished a lot. But there always may be unanswered questions given the nature of drugs and testing.
“For years we’ve been operating in an environment of uncertainty and lack of uniformity,” Lewis said. “This is a huge dilemma for trainers that race in various jurisdictions and veterinarians that travel from state to state. The RMTC was supposed to make life easier, but it’s an elusive goal.”
Lewis said in a perfect world, officials could “look people in the eye and tell them (a drug) is not affecting the performance of a race, but that’s not as easy as it sounds. There are biological variances (from horse to horse) that you have to put into the equation. We owe it to the industry to put some certainty into those (threshold) recommendations.”
A threshold level is the concentration of a drug at which a finding is reported. The levels vary from drug to drug, and not all laboratories and racing commissions use the same levels. Thus, a positive in one state may not be a positive in another.
Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, said a major complication in the process is the very structure of industry regulation.
“Every state likes to be a little bit individual,” Arthur said. “A lot of it is egos with various (racing) commissions. You’ll get individuals that like to be out front.”
“It comes down to individual personalities in some of these states,” Lewis said. “They like to think the program they have in their state is the best one. Until the industry demands that states fall in line, (uniformity) won’t happen.
“Anyone involved in drug testing in America can’t hide from science if it’s good science.”
Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said the proposed National Racing Compact, which has been called “federalism without Washington,” could be the vehicle for drug uniformity. The compact needs a core of six states to officially launch.
“Complainers should realize there is a potential answer on the table and embrace it,” Martin said.
The model rule on anabolic steroids was adopted in most racing jurisdictions in about a year. Officials said that probably got done because there was a “crisis” in terms of the public’s perception of horse racing and heat from Congress, which conducted a high-profile inquiry into the industry in 2008.