It's Common Sense

By John Oxley

Because we as owners love the Thoroughbred, the thrills of racing, and the many joys of the breeding industry, I believe the vast majority of us want to and will support common-sense endeavors for the betterment of the industry.

One such endeavor is being conducted by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium to produce for all of racing a "level playing field" that is free of the use of unapproved drug enhancements on the racing Thoroughbred. A successful result for this program can only provide increased confidence that such drugs are not used, the result being every owner and horse will have a level playing field, allowing each horse his best honest performance in his race.

My trainer, John T. Ward Jr., is a member of the RMTC board of directors. Through him, I have learned the RMTC already has accomplished the following:

  • Model rules for uniform policy on therapeutic medications have been or are being adopted in 30 of 38 pari-mutuel horse racing states.

  • Model rules for more severe uniform penalties, minimum one-year suspensions and $10,000 fines for the use of prohibited drugs and practices, have been approved by the Association of Racing Commissioners International board of directors and five states.

  • More than $700,000 in research projects have been funded with significant progress in developing a test for Epogen, or "EPO," a blood-doping agent.

  • The Big Event Team of investigators is being praised for providing additional security and training at major events.

Now, the RMTC is working on two significant areas of concern: withdrawal times for therapeutic medications and anabolic steroids in racehorses. To establish model policies for withdrawal times, the RMTC is compiling existing withdrawal guidelines for 50 therapeutic medications identified by the American Association of Equine Practitioners by surveying state racing commissions and using each state's veterinary expertise. The guidelines will be posted on the RMTC Web site.

The RMTC's Subcommittee on Anabolic Steroids, which is reviewing research and rules from international racing jurisdictions, plans to deliver its preliminary recommendations for a model policy on anabolic steroids in November.

Meanwhile, the RMTC is working with the RCI Model Rules Committee to develop a model rule on out-of-competition drug testing. Currently, commissions in several jurisdictions can perform random drug tests of horses to detect the use of performance-enhancing medications, especially blood-doping agents such as EPO.

Since 2003, the RMTC has spent nearly $1.5 million, which was funded from three-year commitments from 21 industry organizations. Those commitments, which ended Dec. 31, 2005, were given with the expectation the industry as a whole "should" provide permanent funding thereafter.

The RMTC began proposing a long-term funding formula last year by making presentations at national meetings of associations of all racing breeds. It sent appeals letters with supporting documentation to virtually all tracks and horsemen's groups in the United States. The funding formula for 2006 is based on $1.25 per start from horsemen and $2.50 per race from tracks.

The first horsemen's groups on board are the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Associations in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey; the Florida HBPA; Thoroughbred owners and trainers in California; the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association; and The Hambletonian Society. Participating racetracks include Keeneland, Oak Tree Racing Association, Del Mar, and the New York Racing Association. The RMTC is now turning to owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, and fans to support the RMTC.

I believe the vast majority of owners and trainers want a level playing field where horsemanship counts and the best horses win. I believe they also want to see the cheaters severely punished. Repeat offenders should be eliminated from our sport. These are the objectives of the RMTC.

With the recent racetrack injuries, indictments for drugging of racehorses, and congressional hearings on jockey safety that have drawn national media attention, can racing afford not to have the RMTC? If you share my views on this important issue, please voice your opinions and support the RMTC.