Delaware OKs Medication Rules, Wants 'Shake' Tests

The Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission has approved model uniform medication rules as recommended by regulators in the Mid-Atlantic region and hopes to have blood-gas testing for "milkshakes" in place by the time Delaware Park opens April 30 for its 135-day meet.

The commission approved the model policy during a recent meeting. The rules will be published in the state Register of Regulations April 1, with a commission hearing set for April 30, the day they could be adopted.

The commission has been active in meeting with other regulators in the Mid-Atlantic region in an attempt to devise a regional medication policy given the large number of racehorses that ship from state to state on a regular basis. Mid-Atlantic regulators and horsemen are largely responsible for the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium's position that adjunct bleeder medications be permitted for use on race day until research into their efficacy proves they shouldn't be used.

Delaware is one of the states that allow use of adjunct bleeder medication in conjunction with furosemide (Salix) on race day. Unlike Maryland, which allows a choice, Delaware only permits use of aminocaproic acid (Amicar). The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority recently approved rules that permit use of one of four adjunct bleeder medications, including carbazochrome, a substance permitted for use in Maryland.

"There are some things where we don't agree," said John Wayne, executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission. "You're never going to be able to say you agree on everything. Our feelings on carbazochrome are very passionate. The product is widely used but its efficacy is not consistent."

Blood-gas testing determines the level of carbon dioxide in a horse's system. A milkshake is a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and another liquid administered to a horse before a race. The concoction used to be administered directly into a horse's stomach through a tube, but now can be given orally or intravenously.

The testing has been performed at Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway, two harness tracks in Delaware.

Wayne said at one time it was believed use of alkalizing agents and the build-up of lactic acid were unique to Standardbreds because they participate in pre-race warm-ups unlike Thoroughbreds. Testing on Thoroughbreds began in earnest last year and now is performed in major racing states such as California, Florida, and New York, with Kentucky prepared to join the effort.

"We don't want to be sitting back and watching things," Wayne said. "We want to have a pro-active approach to a potential problem. We're going to step up attempts for surveillance and investigation, and have gotten a lot of support from the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau and Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. But you have to back it up with a testing program."

Wayne said state regulations allow for TCO2 testing and "base excess" testing for alkalizing agents. He said a 2004 field trip to the Downs at Pocono, a Pennsylvania harness track, indicated base excess testing, which determines the acid base, is "a little more consistent" than TCO2 testing, which measures the amount of carbon dioxide in plasma.

Wayne said altering the Ph balance--level of acidity--in a horse could prove dangerous to its health.

"I think you're playing with dynamite when you do things that aren't natural to the animal," Wayne said. "I know this is a money-driven business, but safety is a big issue for the commission. The commission is there to protect the horse."

Delaware plans pre-race testing, which Wayne said is "the only way to get the message out that it won't be tolerated." Milkshake positives will result in scratched horses and disciplinary action, he said.

"What we're trying to do is a preventative thing," Wayne said.

Wayne said horsemen and management at Delaware Park, where gross purses last year totaled $33.9 million, support blood-gas testing. The racing commission will pick up the cost of testing device through a fees and fines account, and be reimbursed by Delaware Park for the cost of the tests and supplies.