Race-Day Medications: The Debate Goes On

As the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium continues its march toward uniformity in Thoroughbred racing, battle lines are being formed by other groups that believe the American Association of Equine Practitioners' proposed furosemide-only policy on race days is too extreme.

One organization, the Lexington-based Race Track Practitioners, is calling for a public debate on medication and testing issues. The organization believes Kentucky medication rules, called by some in the industry as too permissive, haven't had proper representation in closed-door meetings that began last December with the Racehorse Medication Summit in Tucson, Ariz.

In an open letter, the executive committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association recently questioned the legitimacy of a Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protection Association survey on medication. The survey results, which TOBA said "should certainly be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism," revealed that more than 90% of surveyed Kentucky HBPA members support existing policies in the state.

An earlier TOBA survey of owners indicated only 43% of the respondents believe Kentucky's policy is fair. In its open letter, TOBA concludes that, if the Kentucky HBPA survey is the true barometer, "the day may come when racing industry policymakers move forward without Kentucky."

In a recent development, the Florida HBPA board of directors voted in favor of the Kentucky position as part of a National HBPA survey of its affiliates. The National HBPA survey offered three choices for race-day medication: Salix only, Kentucky policies, or Salix and one or two other substances.

The reason behind the vote, a source from Florida said, was that a Salix-only policy on race day isn't acceptable. The Kentucky policy, which allows use of multiple therapeutic drugs on race day, was chosen because it allows room for compromise, the individual said.

The early returns show a difference of opinion, but that's not unexpected.

In West Virginia, the Charles Town HBPA supports use of Salix and adjunct bleeder medications on race day, and sees no problem with trace levels of Bute within 24 hours of a race, president Dick Watson said. But other substances are off the table, Watson said.

"I'm opposed to race-day painkillers like Banamine, and feel strongly they have no place on race day," Watson said. "I'm absolutely opposed to the Kentucky policy."

Kentucky HBPA president Dr. Alex Harthill acknowledged the Florida vote and said: "I don't see how anything has changed. We support the use of medication for the well-being of the horse, which is subjected to the whims of man. We want to protect the horse with legitimate medication."

At its May 1 meeting, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium discussed a number of things, including therapeutic drugs used in racehorses. Dr. Robert Lewis, one of the spokesmen for the consortium, said there wasn't any "hay, oats, and water preaching" during the meeting," and that participants realize that "therapeutic products are here for a reason."

The debate may hinge not so much on use of the medications as it does on when they should be used. Kentucky, because of its race-day policies, has been targeted, but therapeutic drugs are used regularly in other states.

In Maryland, trainers Jerry Robb and Mark Shuman were suspended in early May after tests revealed the presence of guanabenz, a Class 3 substance that isn't permitted on race day in Maryland. The drug serves to calm horses and is used when they tie up, among other things.

Robb, a longtime trainer who along with Shuman has appealed the ruling, told the Baltimore Sun: "The drug I was using is widely used on the backside for therapeutic reasons." He told the newspaper the stewards' ruling "shocked" him.

Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which has floated its own medication proposal, is representing the two trainers. Foreman said Robb, who had two previous positives in about 30 years, is "a meticulous trainer whose records show he withdrew use of (guanabenz) 24 hours prior to races."

Dr. Arnold Pessin, a Lexington consultant who serves as spokesman for the Race Track Practitioners, suggested a public debate be held between representatives of both sides of the argument to find common ground and clear up misconceptions about use of therapeutic medications. He said private meetings held by the consortium thus far have been off the mark because "anyone who doesn't agree with them is not invited. It's contrived and controlled. The only ingredients left out of the mix are the public and the horse."

Harthill said an open debate on the subject could get "screwy" and may not accomplish its objective, but he did say it would be appropriate to have a meeting that includes representatives of all opinions in the medication debate. Kentucky-based veterinarians have complained for months that their position has not been represented in meetings.

Foreman participated in the Tucson and Louisville meetings of the medication consortium. When asked if the ultimate result will be a compromise, he said: "I really don't know the answer to that question."

Foreman did say the Mid-Atlantic region, which has been working toward uniformity for five years, could end up having to take the leadership role, and rightfully so, because the "region has the largest concentration of racing on a daily basis in the United States."