Graded Stakes Testing Plan Still on Target for Summer

The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association remains committed to implementing a drug-testing program tied to the American Graded Stakes Committee by July 1, an official said April 1 during the Joint Conference of Racing Regulators in New Orleans.

The committee had hoped to have the program in place Jan. 1, but it was stalled by logistical problems. Andy Schweigardt, director of industry relations and development for TOBA, said the committee hopes to have all the parameters in place by May 1 so jurisdictions can move forward.

Under the plan, if a state fails to adopt and use the new testing protocol, stakes would lose graded status.

Schweigardt said a survey of 17 jurisdictions had nine responses. In six of the states, the law allows for the upgraded tests, though in five of the states, the current drug-testing contract doesn't allow for them. Four of the states said they could switch laboratories.

The protocol currently lists 140 substances to be tested. Chemists suggested the protocol employ a list of ELISA tests, not drugs, apparently because there aren't tests for some of the substances on the list.

Schweigardt said TOBA believes the participants -- horse owners -- should pay for the upgraded tests in grade I, II, and III stakes via purse deductions. He a said "a few thousand dollars off a multimillion-dollar stakes program" is a reasonable amount to pay to ensure integrity.

In New Jersey, which is on board with the TOBA plan, it will cost about $36,000 more a year for drug testing, said Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission. New Jersey has opted to run tests on all races held on the days graded stakes are run, he said.

Conrad Cohen, president of the Ontario Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the plan to have enhanced testing only for graded stakes.

"The integrity of graded stakes is important, but what about the integrity of racing in general?" Cohen said. "If graded stakes were the only races in North America, I'd say it's a good program ... You're being very selective and not doing the industry a great service."

Lonny Powell, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said the committee is merely enacting protocol for races that fall under its authority. On the plus side, Powell said it could lead to testing upgrades for other races.

TOBA appears to be on a tight schedule. Phil Lorimer, laboratory director for the equine drug-testing unit of the New Jersey Racing Commission said the testing plan could be ready for July 1 if the deal is done by May 1.

Dr. Walter Hyde, who runs the lab at the University of Iowa, said he would need to hear from jurisdictions for which his lab performs drug tests as quickly as possible. University of Iowa already holds the drug-testing contract for Kentucky, and Hyde last year said it wouldn't be difficult to implement the graded-stakes testing plan.

Schweigardt said he plans to meet with the National HBPA executive committee the week of April 5 to further discuss the program.