Steroids, NYRA Discussed at Conference

Racing medications and the future of the New York Racing Association were among the topics discussed Aug. 5 at the eighth Institute on Racing and Gaming Law in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Sponsored by the Government Law Center of Albany Law School, the day-long conference was held at the Gideon Putnam Hotel and featured seven moderated panels composed of industry leaders, horsemen, veterinarians, legal counsel, and racing regulators. A four-person panel, moderated by Rick Goodell of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, discussed racing medication, with a heavy emphasis on the use of steroids in racehorses.

Speaking to that issue were Alan Foreman, an attorney and the chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; Edward Martin, president and CEO for the Association of Racing Commissioners International; Dr. George Maylin, director of the equine drug testing and research program at Cornell University; and Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director for the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Not surprisingly, Waterman said one of the biggest concerns surrounding the use of steroids is the lack of uniformity.

“The problem we face in trying to generate uniformity among 38 racing jurisdictions and 18 post-race testing laboratories is that if we don’t establish a concentration for all these laboratories to hit, every lab and every state will have their own definition of what a ban is, and we have created a giant mess,” Waterman said.

He said the RMTC has come out with several policy directives for states, including that no anabolic steroid be administered within 30 days of a race. If such a drug is needed inside 30 days, it would have to be documented by a practicing veterinarian, complete with a diagnosis and reason for use. That documentation would then have to be recorded with the regulatory authority in that state.

Waterman said 12 states so far have adopted the model rule language of the RMTC, which has suggested all racing jurisdictions have regulations--in essence a race-day ban--of steroids in place by Jan. 1, 2009.

“Of those 12, a couple won’t have racing until next year, but approximately 10 states are now testing and regulating under this model rule,” he said.

The discussion of steroids at the racing and gaming law conference comes on the heels of the Breeders’ Cup announcement last week of the implementation of penalties against trainers of horses that test positive for anabolic steroids in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, beginning this year when the races are run at Santa Anita Park Oct. 24-25.

Foreman spoke of the misconceptions regarding the use of steroids in horses.

“The general public just associates drugging and cheating in sports with the use of steroids,” he said. “It’s the single, easiest drug (the public) can identify. The public doesn’t differentiate between the human athlete and the horse. They think it is bad, it is wrong, and that it needs to get rooted out. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what we think or what we say. Public perception is reality.

“Recent polling since the Eight Belle’s tragedy has been a very sobering experience for those of us that work on the inside of racing, because that polling is showing, not only from a public standpoint, that within our industry there is a very strong perception that our races are being compromised by drugging. There are no studies that indicate steroids are a performance-enhancing drug.”

Martin said one of the challenges facing the industry is the lack of funding for more sophisticated testing at laboratories.

“We have spent a significant amount of money, and it is not enough on daily drug testing on this sport,” Martin said. “Out of every 100 samples taken, there are maybe 1% or 1.5% positives called. What are most of the positives? Eighty-five of the positives nationally are someone tripped the wire on the administration of what otherwise would be a therapeutic substance.”

Speaking on the panel about the future of the NYRA were Steven Dunker, chairman of the NYRA board of trustees; Paul Francis, the former director of State Operations for New York Governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson; and Steven Crist, chairman and publisher of Daily Racing Form.

Among the topics was the dragged-out process of getting video lottery terminals to Aqueduct. VLTs were legalized in 2001, but have yet to be put in operation. Francis, who continues to negotiate on behalf of the state on the opening of the Aqueduct casino, said it has been a laborious process for a reason.

“The selection of a VLT operator at Aqueduct requires the unanimous agreement of three parties: the governor, the majority leader of the Senate, and the speaker of the Assembly,” Francis said. “Anytime you need a unanimous consensus on a difficult issue, it is unpredictable when that will occur.”

Crist drew laughs from those in attendance when asked by moderator Patrick Connors, “Let’s assume the VLTs come in..." Before Connors finished the question, Crist said: “I don’t quite know why you would assume that. They were approved in 2001. Now it is 2008. It is great fodder for a newspaper columnist, but it is also a lot of money, probably $1 billion by now that the state has lost by dragging out this process for so many years.”

With the final contract between the state and NYRA not signed, the organization continues to operate under a temporary extension of its old franchise. NYRA, which is in line for a 25-year extension, has yet to officially emerge from bankruptcy, though its reorganizational plan was approved by a federal court.

Part of the contractual agreement between NYRA and the state will outline provisions for the transfer of land at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga from NYRA to the state. The issues of selecting a VLT operator and the distribution of revenue associated with the VLTs have also held up the process of executing a formal agreement.

“We’ve made a lot of progress on these issues just recently," Duncker said. "We had a tremendous series of meetings last week with the state and (Paul Francis). I’m not trying to avoid the question by not giving a date, but some of these issues we still have left are extremely complex, so it might take a number of weeks. But if you have a graph of the progress being made, it would be upward sloping in the right manner.”