Stakes Grades to be Tied to Drug-Testing Plan

The American Graded Stakes Committee will begin implementing a drug-testing plan for horses participating in its designated races beginning at Keeneland and Belmont Park this fall. It expects to have the testing protocol fully in place by the end of 2004.

Andy Schweigardt, director of industry relations and development for the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, made the announcement April 26 during the Association of Racing Commissioners International convention. He said the committee would approach other tracks to begin the program later this year, as well as Breeders' Cup.

Schweigardt told racing commissioners "performing the tests will be a requirement of grade eligibility." He said races from all three grade designations would be included in the program.

Each racing jurisdiction would need to adopt the testing plan for its respective graded stakes. Schweigardt said the stakes committee would exercise flexibility "based upon regulatory differences from state to state."

Established by TOBA, the committee has been classifying major races in the United States since 1974, and became the recognized authority a few years later.

Schweigardt said the "drug testing protocol" is a risk the graded stakes committee believes is necessary to protect the classification system. "The trustees have an extreme desire to maintain the breed's integrity," he said. "This issue has been the subject of many impassioned speeches. We think it will ensure the integrity of our graded stakes."

Schweigardt said the committee "hopes that it is laying the groundwork" for the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which is working on a standardized medication and drug-testing policy for racing in the United States. The cost, he said, "will vary greatly from state to state" and depend on the size of its grades stakes program and the extent of its testing procedures.

His remarks came as part of a panel on the progress of the consortium. The group consisted of Dr. Scot Waterman, the consortium's executive director; Dr. Richard Sams, analytical toxicology director at Ohio State University; and Dr. Rick Arthur, vice president and director for Oak Tree Racing Association.

Waterman traced the history of the drug-uniformity movement since it began with an industry meeting in Tucson, Ariz., in December 2001. He said $800,000 has been budgeted through 2005 for the consortium's work, with $500,000 secured so far for 19 research proposals.

Waterman described in some detail the process of identifying substances, archiving data, and investigating each drug that could be included in the final policy. A veterinary advisory committee identified 40 to 50 medications "essential to horse welfare," he said. Consensus was reached on eight of them.

Waterman said a panel of vets would review "real world applicability" of the drugs, and each reviewer would determine independently whether a regulatory threshold level could be attained. Sams provided a description of the process as it pertained to clenbuterol. He said a consensus document for the bronchodilator is near completion.

A panel of five experts prepared reports independently based on extensive information. The draft documents included overviews of issues, classifications and FDA status, physical and chemical characteristics, clinical pharmacology (clinical use, toxicity, side effects), interaction with other drugs, and testing detection. The reports were assimilated, and a draft consensus document with recommendations for usage was distributed to the panel for further review, Sams said.

From those changes, a final document, to include recommended plasma and urine thresholds and withdrawal times, will be prepared for consortium approval.

Arthur said the goal is to have all the completed research published in scientific journals. "We are going to look at the problems in horse racing, and we are going to solve them," the veterinarian said. "That's what we are going to do."

Arthur said the goal of the consortium is three-fold: to ensure the fairness of
competition across the U.S., standardize the testing procedures for all participants, and produce rules and enforcement everyone in the sport can accept and respect.

"There's an old saying in our profession that what is good for the horse is good for the vet," Arthur said. "I contend the same is true for horse racing."