By Edward S. Bonnie
Would you pay $5 per start to support better drug testing, research, and track security? The average Thoroughbred races eight times per year. Hence, the average Thoroughbred owner would pay $40 per year per horse to help ensure competition on a level playing field. This proposal has been recommended by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC). If mandated by all racing commissions, the annual revenue would exceed $4 million. The revenue would be spent for a national uniform drug policy, improved drug testing, laboratory accreditation and uniform testing procedures, established withdrawal times and threshold levels for authorized therapeutic medications, increased racetrack security, severe penalty guidelines for drug rule violations, and, eventually, an industry-owned research and testing laboratory. There have been numerous attempts over the last 25 years to level the proverbial playing field. In 1981, Sen. Mac Matthias (R-MD) proposed legislation to establish a federal drug testing and enforcement agency for horse racing, but his committee was persuaded the industry could handle these issues internally. The bill never got to the Senate floor. In 1984, the Association of Racing Commissioners International established the Quality Assurance Program. Its members worked hard and made significant progress, but funding was voluntary and politics derailed the program. In 1991 came The Jockey Club's McKinsey Report, which had good recommendations but no financing structure, causing the report to go on the shelf. The NTRA Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force was formed in 1999. This task force had first-class, professional staff, and made significant progress with the "Super Test" program. This committee's financial support was again voluntary, and when the money was expended, the task force was finished. Shortly thereafter, a Medication Summit was undertaken by the American Association of Equine Practitioners in December 2001, out of which the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium was created. This group was designed to represent all facets of the industry and has been supported voluntarily by all the major stakeholders in the horse racing industry. The RMTC has made significant progress with 23 states having embraced their recommended uniform rules for race-day medication. The funding commitments end in 2006, and the industry may have another failed attempt to a permanent solution. Why? Because the industry has never had the good judgment to design a permanent financing system for these very important duties. My experience in the horse show industry has been much more favorable. The United States Equestrian Federation has a successful drug testing and prosecution regimen. Owners participating in USEF shows pay a fee of $7 per horse per show, resulting in an average annual drug testing cost of $105 per horse. These horses primarily compete for ribbons and trophies, and any prize money is most often negligible. Notwithstanding, the owners agreed to pay these sums to get a level playing field, competent chemists, and aggressive prosecution. The administration of the USEF drug rule has been accorded national and judicial support, as well as an international reputation for efficiency and effectiveness. Why can't the racing industry do the same? We must quit relying on the voluntary support of major racing organizations and concerned individuals and produce a simple rule quickly that all commissions should be urged to adopt. If the owners in the horse show world can afford $105 per year per horse for no revenue possibilities of any note, can the owner of a Thoroughbred competing for millions of dollars not afford $40 per year? The answer is obvious. We need to start saying, "I'll give my $5 because it will help ensure the integrity of the game in which I am participating." Write your organizations, racetracks, and commissions and ask them to support the $5 per start rule. I have participated in too many failures. I don't want to see another one.
EDWARD S. BONNIE is a Louisville, Ky., attorney and a member of the Security Sub-Committee of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.