Officials gathered in New Orleans for the first Joint Conference of Racing Regulators will consider a proposed national medication policy that calls for voluntary use of Salix on race days and use of one of three non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs no later than 24 hours before a race.
The policy offered by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has been converted into model rules for regulators. The boards of directors of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and the North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association are expected to vote on the suggestions April 3.
The two organizations are holding their first joint conference. Also on the agenda when the boards meet is a proposal for unification into one regulators' association. No jurisdiction has publicly opposed the plan, which has been hammered out by a task force comprised of members of RCI and NAPRA.
Similarly, regulators seem to have received the proposed national medication policy in a positive fashion. Their input was solicited during a meeting in Tucson, Ariz., last December, and now it's up to them to approve the model rules, which were discussed during a joint forum on medication April 1. If the rules get the go-ahead, the consortium will then begin the process of lobbying individual states for support.
"I think it's a better document because of (regulators' suggestions)," said Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the consortium. "We're hopeful the model-rules language will be approved by each of the boards, and then we'll go about the process of doing everything in our power to assist in implementation of the process."
Even before the consortium was officially formed, there was widespread support for continued use and administration of Salix on race days. The proposed policy would make it voluntary, which means a horse would no longer have to qualify via the results of an endoscopic exam, as is the case in some states. In addition, the language would prevent a horse from going "hot and cold" -- inconsistent use of Salix.
"It would be helpful to have all jurisdictions moving forward on this to prevent problems for horses crossing state lines," Waterman said.
Horses also would be allowed to race on one of three NSAIDS -- butazolin, flunixin, or ketoprofen -- but they could be treated no later than 24 hours before a race. Some jurisdictions already have the 24-hour rule for various substances, but in Kentucky, multiple NSAIDs are permitted for use on race days.
Kentucky is expected to be ground zero in the push for uniform medication. The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has said it wants to maintain its current medication policy. However, the Kentucky Racing Commission was abolished earlier this year, and it remains to be seen how the new Kentucky Horse Racing Authority will address the issue.
In a related matter, RCI president Lonny Powell, a member of the consortium, said a "matrix" is being developed to outline penalties for drug violations. Horses, owners, trainers, and veterinarians would be subject to penalties under the concept, which Powell called a "pretty complicated procedure."
Owners who keep horses with trainers who regularly have positives, for instance, would be penalized. Powell said the consortium could have guidelines ready by the summer.
Linda Mills, president of the Florida HBPA, called on the industry to implement and enforce serious penalties for those who willfully break the rules.
"We as horsemen want to see the real cheaters extremely punished," Mills said. "We think 80% of the problem could be stopped by having control over what veterinarians being onto the backstretch. You've got to make the penalties for cheaters count."
Charles Gardiner, executive director of the Louisiana State Racing Commission, said the state has found success by increasing penalties according to number of violations and the severity of each one. He said there have been cases in which Class 4 and 5 drugs -- therapeutics that aren't believed to alter performance -- have been "cocktailed."
Ben Nolt, executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, said the stacking of fines and suspensions for violators in the state has worked. "It got pretty effective real fast," he said.