Regulation, Reclassification of Steroids Looming

Racing officials Dec. 7 confirmed a push for regulation of anabolic steroids, and also said the therapeutic substances could be upgraded to Class 3 under Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines by April 2007.

During a presentation at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing in Tucson, Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, said the industry - through the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium - wants to develop a "national consensus" on regulation of steroids, which are widely used in racehorses and horses at auction. Arthur provided no timetable but indicated regulation--essentially a ban for racing purposes--was coming.

"We've looked at this problem carefully, and I'm absolutely confident it can be done fairly and effectively," said Arthur, who noted U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky attached a provision to ban steroids to legislation that would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act. "I don't think we need someone to push it along and take the leadership to get this thing done."

Arthur said withdrawal times would be developed with input from horsemen. The withdrawal times would vary, depending on the actual type of steroid, and samples would have to differentiate between intact male horses and geldings, for instance. Arthur also said the cost of the tests would be "negligible."

As for the regulation of anabolic steroids in horses sold at auction, Arthur said: "We certainly have the mechanism in horse racing to regulate drugs. Our feeling is the marketplace will eventually demand (regulation), and sales companies will handle this on their own."

David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, said after the presentation that sale companies are involved in the discussions.

Arthur said the industry has "ducked" regulation of steroids because, unlike other sports, the public isn't aware they are widely used in horses. He said it's time for the industry to "get together and tackle the issue" and put American racing on par with every other jurisdiction that regulates use of steroids.

Federal Drug Administration-approved steroids are currently listed as Class 4 therapeutic drugs under RCI guidelines. A reclassification to Class 3--more regulated substances that can impact performance--has support from some quarters of the industry and would bring with it harsher penalties.

When a recommendation on reclassification is decided upon, it would be given to a committee that would then pass it on to the full RCI board, which plans to meet in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in April for its annual meeting.

"If there is a consensus, it could be a relatively smooth process," RCI president Ed Martin said after the Tucson panel discussion. "I hope so--it's the right way to go. We've already had a lot of preliminary discussions on it, and from an informal sense there is definitely a lot of consensus to go in that direction."

In a related matter, RMTC executive director Dr. Scot Waterman said the group is prioritizing almost 50 therapeutic substances in an attempt to assign withdrawal times for them, but research is taking time. Each drug is sent to two laboratories for testing, which involves study-group horses.

Jurisdictions and horsemen in the Mid-Atlantic region have become impatient with the withdrawal-time process and may move ahead with their own guidelines, Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association chief executive officer Alan Foreman said in a recent interview.

"You can get the sense these things don't happen quickly," Waterman said. "There are so many things you are trying to control to make a research project publishable."

The RMTC in January will make available on its Web site as many withdrawal times for therapeutic drugs as possible in state-by-state fashion. Waterman said the list wouldn't be complete--and would include a hold-harmless clause--but would give horsemen an idea of withdrawal times when they ship from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.