National Medication Policy Again Called a Necessity

by Jack Shinar

Setting a national policy for racehorse medication is a vital step for the sport's long-term health, a top industry executive told the 2002 Harness Racing Congress in Las Vegas, Nev., Feb. 20.

Alan Foreman, chairman and chief executive officer of the Maryland-based Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, kicked off the conference of pari-mutuel industry leaders by urging the 200 officials in attendance to support a national policy for drug-testing and medication standards.

"There's no rhyme or reason to (current) policies," Foreman said. "If you're caught, you're tarred and feathered. But in other states, you can do the same things legally. There's no uniformity from state to state. All people want is a level playing field."

He cited a recent National Thoroughbred Racing Association report that noted a drastic decline in horse ownership due to two major issues--licensing and medication. The medication issue is particularly severe in the Mid-Atlantic states Foreman represents because of the cluster of tracks located close together, he said.

"It's an absolute nightmare," said owner Eli Solomon, whose 3-year-old colt SJ's Caviar was named top sophomore trotter of 2001. "You go back and forth from one state to another, and it may be 48, 72, or 96 hours that your horse had to be withdrawn from medication before it can race."

Lonny Powell, president of the Asssociation of Racing Commissioners International, said RCI members are among the potential regulators of what could be an international policy. Powell, who participated in the American Association of Equine Practitioners Racehorse Medication Summit in December, also presented his views during a Congress panel discussion.

"We're trying to establish very complex and very challenging ground rules," Powell said. "In this industry, consensus is not easy. We've traditionally operated on an independent, self-governing basis. But the scope is huge. We'll see a few states lead the way, and regionally others will come on board. This won't happen overnight."

Individual state regulators each believe they have it right, Foreman said. But differing policies confuse bettors, who may be watching a dozen tracks across country--each with a separate set of rules. "The public needs this," he said of a uniform policy. "They're losing confidence in the business."

The THA suggested a model national drug-policy creating three classes of drugs: zero-tolerance banned substances such as cocaine, therapeutic medications that could affect performance, and therapeutic drugs that are not performance-enhancing but could mask the presence of other drugs. Violations involving each class of drug would carry specific penalties.

In addition, Foreman said his group urged a total ban on "milkshaking," the practice of force-feeding a horse bicarbonate of soda to reduce lactic acid in its bloodstream. The THA recommended that only one drug, the diuretic Salix (formerly Lasix), be legal on race day.

"This isn't a Thoroughbred issue or a Standardbred issue or a Quarter Horse issue; it's an industry issue," Foreman said. "If we do the right thing, this will enhance our business for years to come."