Industry Hopes For Starting Point on Drugs

Racing industry participants expressed hope Tuesday morning that a five-hour facilitated session on medication would at least serve as a starting point toward uniformity. No one expected radical changes in current policies that vary by jurisdiction in the United States.

On an unusually cloudy and rainy morning in Tucson, Ariz., 31 invited representatives went behind closed doors to discuss medication use and drug-testing procedures. The meeting marked the first Racehorse Medication Summit sponsored by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, former president of the AAEP, said the meeting was closed to the public so participants would feel comfortable offering their thoughts. Sally Baker, director of communications for the AAEP, said participants would be free to discuss their impressions of the meeting after the fact.

"There's no gag order on anybody," Baker said before the session began.

Trainer John Ward, one of the invited participants, said he didn't expect the session to provide "a cure-all," though he said he was encouraged by the fact "all sides agree, save for one or two. Hopefully, we'll see a lot of strength from the owners' position, something we've never seen before."

Among the owners' representatives in attendance were Gary Biszantz and Dan Metzger, chairman and president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, respectively; and John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. Last year, TOBA floated its own proposal to tighten regulation of medication in Thoroughbred racing.

An open educational session before the facilitated meeting was well-attended by early arrivals at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing, which officially kicks off Wednesday morning. The session featured presentations on testing procedures and use of medications such as clenbuterol, furosemide (Salix, formerly Lasix), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

The educational session broke no new ground, though it did raise some questions at the heart of the medication debate: Is raceday medication necessary? Which testing methods work best? Do clenbuterol and Salix affect performance in racehorses? How should NSAIDs and corticosteroids be used in racehorses?

Much of the discussion centered on exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, or bleeding, and how to treat it. Dr. Rick Arthur from California said all horses bleed from the lungs to one degree or another, and despite a common belief in the industry, it isn't normal. It's merely expected because of the pressure racehorses put on themselves when they compete.

Dr. Cynthia Kollins-Baker of the University of California-Davis said there are myths associated with use of clenbuterol. She said evidence suggests the drug doesn't affect the performance of a horse without respiratory disease, and that post-race detection of the drug more likely results from regular use, not illegal raceday administration.

Dr. Warwick Bayly of Washington State University said the effects of furosemide "are long on opinion and short on fact." He did say Salix, a diuretic, contributes to weight loss, something that shouldn't be taken lightly by the racing community.

"If anyone here thinks losing 10 pounds wouldn't help you exercise better, please raise your hand," Bayly said.

McIlwraith, in a brief presentation on NSAIDs, said therapeutic medications are necessary, but not enough is known as to their affects on racehorses. He said the issues are when to use them and how much to give.

"By providing too much analgesia, do we put that horse at risk?" McIlwraith asked.

The racetrack practitioners invited to the closed, facilitated session were Dr. Tom Brokken from Florida, and Dr. Milton McClure from Louisiana. Listed as "resources" were invited guests Dr. Richard Sams, a chemist from Ohio State University, and Dr. Ron Jensen, a regulatory veterinarian from California.