The proposed anabolic steroid policy, along with other model rules featuring bans against toe grab horseshoes and the adoption of safety reins for jockeys, were debated and passed during the morning general assembly session at the Snake River Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
“I think RCI is more important and relevant than ever in history,” said new chairman Peter C. Burnett, the chairman of the Virginia Racing Commission, in his address to assembled regulators. “Racing needs to speak in a unified voice to the public. I hope we can turn talk into reality.”
Lending a loud voice of realism to the conference was guest speaker Bill Casner, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and co-owner of WinStar Farm.
Casner earlier in the week passionately delivered a planned presentation outlining the hazards of toe grabs, and then interjected himself into a lively debate on the steroid issue prior to the model rule passage.
“I know that I am not part of the voting process, but I am an owner and the racing world is under a microscope,” Casner said, noting similar steroid focus on other sports, such as baseball. “I think it is imperative to take a stand on this. We need this rule in place, and I am asking you to step up, be brave, and take a leadership stand on this.”
The adoption motion was then passed almost unanimously, despite concerns expressed by some on the scientific standards use on four allowed limited-use anabolics -- stanozolol, boldenone, nandrolone, and testosterone.
“I want to see the use of steroids eventually banned as well, but we need to be absolutely accurate when we put this out as regulators,” said Ingrid Fermin, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board.
But Casner’s input drove home a measure that was likely to pass anyway.
“It has an impact when regulators hear a horse owner say, ‘regulate this,’ ” said RCI executive vice president Paul Bowlinger.
Model rules are for the most part consensus guidelines which regulators use in their respective jurisdictions to seek the enactment of collaborating legislative laws. The RCI membership roster includes 38 states and nine neighboring nations and territories in North America.
RCI president and CEO Ed Martin said the pressure was now on chemists to determine more accurate threshold levels, if any, before the proposed implementation date of Jan. 1, 2008. The thresholds have been in effect for 14 years in Iowa, the lone state with anabolic steroid testing, as well as in international settings.
Like Casner’s powerful pleas for bans of anabolic steroids and toe grabs – which some research suggest are present in 95% of all catastrophic racehorse injuries – the voice of another “outsider” drove a point home on the implementation of nylon-reinforced safety reins for jockeys.
Darrell Haire, a former jockey and western regional manager for the Jockeys’ Guild, called a ride he once had on a horse with a broken rein “the scariest thing that could happen while you are in the middle of a pack.”
Haire said he didn’t know if a broken rein was ever directly attributed to a jockey’s death. “But,” he added with pointed emphasis, “before someone gets killed, this needs to be mandated.”
In a wide-ranging address, guest speaker Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, called for increased dialogue with regulators, while at the same time asking for their help.
“Racing has fallen into old ways of thinking,” he said. “We are taxed like are a monopoly franchise, with taxes on gross handle. Casinos don’t get taxed on gross, but on revenue.
“And somehow we have to get past the thinking that takeout needs to be regulated. We need the ability to drop our price. We need to get out of the thinking that we have to control every economic (aspect) of the industry.”
Waldrop also noted the potential threat offered by a Congressional bill introduced April 26 that would roll back a ban on Internet gambling, from which horse racing is currently exempt.
“That is a real threat to the business,” Waldrop said of the bill, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, a vocal opponent of the Interstate Horseracing Act. “Just like the expansion of casino gambling, expansion of internet gambling is a threat to our industry.”
The RCI conference concludes April 27.