Drug Consortium Moves on Violations, 'Milkshakes'

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has set a deadline for adoption of recommended uniform medication violations and testing protocol for "milkshakes," which are mixtures of bicarbonate of soda and a liquid force-fed to a racehorse before it competes.

The consortium met Jan. 24 for about eight hours in Southern California. It set a deadline of March 1 for adoption of the rules and protocol, but in a release also said it would "continue to focus on helping state racing commissions reach consensus on uniform therapeutic medication rules." The consortium is scheduled to meet next April 12.

The model rules considered or already adopted by some regulatory agencies have generated widespread support. The rules on race-day, therapeutic medications have been a harder sell, particularly in Kentucky, where the largest horsemen's group has voiced its support for current standards that allow use of multiple therapeutic medications on race day.

The consortium advocates use of Salix only on race day, with one non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug 24 hours before a race. Thresholds have been set for some NSAIDs at 48 hours before a race. The panel won't issue a position on use of adjunct bleeder medications on race day until research is completed.

The Ohio State Racing Commission became one of the first in the country to adopt the model rules in total when it did so Jan. 20. In addition, six racing commissions in the Mid-Atlantic region met the same day and endorsed the model rules for medication and drug testing. The individual commissions must now adopt them.

Most states in the Mid-Atlantic region have permitted use of race-day adjunct bleeder medications, while Ohio just approved the use of one--amicar--under its new rules.

"Having states like California, and now the Mid-Atlantic region and Ohio, on board is a huge step forward for us," consortium executive director Dr. Scot Waterman said in the release. "We all know how difficult it has been through the years to get uniform medication in the 43 racing states. These are complicated issues requiring considerable research and review by our panels of scientific advisers, but we're making immense progress."

Racetracks in the Standardbred industry have been performing total carbon dioxide (TCO2) testing for years through use of the "black box" to determine if horses have been milkshaked. Thoroughbred tracks have slowly begun to test in recent years, and many states have classified milkshaking a prohibited practice.

As for general medication penalties, the consortium has discussed regrouping substances in the five-class scheme devised by the Association of Racing Commissioners International into three categories. Penalites haven't been set, but officials said they would be quite severe; the most serious violations for Class 1 drugs could carry lifetime bans.

The consortium during its Jan. 24 meeting also heard a report on a three-stage plan to improve barn-area security, which more and more has become a focal point. The board approved expenditure of $100,000 for projects to provide racetracks and racing commissions with "best practice" recommendations to enhance security in barn areas.

Though harness tracks for years have regularly used detention barns in which horses are kept under surveillance for a certain number of hours prior to their respective races, Thoroughbred interests have resisted. Talk of detention barns has heated up the last few years, however.

The consortium has formed a Strategic Planning Committee to set priorities and timelines for long-term funding, drug-testing protocols and quality assurance, laboratory accreditation, expansion of the consortium staff, and hiring consultants to address technical issues. Members of the committee are Dr. Rick Arthur, representing Oak Tree Racing Association; Stan Bergstein of Harness Tracks of America; David Switzer of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association; Alan Foreman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association; and Terry Meyocks of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

In regard to research, the consortium received 22 applications from 13 universities for projects valued at more than $1.7 million. Dan Fick, consortium chairman and executive director of The Jockey Club, said proposals under review include identifying threshold levels and withdrawal guidelines for several more therapeutic medications, testing the efficacy of adjunct bleeder medications, and developing confirmation tests for prohibited exotic drugs that are believed to be in use.