AAEP Medication Policy Generates Discussion

A call by the American Association of Equine Practitioners for uniform medication guidelines and a crackdown on race-day medication has won praise from some horsemen and owners' associations in the Thoroughbred industry, but some racetrack veterinarians have expressed concerns.

In a policy adopted in early October, the AAEP says therapeutic medications other than the diuretic furosemide, which is used to treat internal bleeding, should be banned. It also says that "pharmacologically insignificant" levels of therapeutic medication found during testing shouldn't constitute rule violations.

The Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders this week issued a statement in support of the AAEP's position. Executive director David Switzer said the KTA/KTOB "applauds the AAEP for addressing the issue of race-day and uniform medication. This position will undoubtedly open the doors for much-needed healthy industry discussion on the issue."

Some racetrack practitioners have sent or plan to send the AAEP letters to question why they weren't informed of the new policy before it was released. A race-day ban on therapeutic medication could, among other things, impact their business.

Sally Baker, public relations director for the AAEP, said members were informed of the new policy through a mailing in mid-September, weeks before a public announcement was made to the industry. The policy was approved by the AAEP board in August.

The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has opposed any change in the state's medication rules, which have been tagged as liberal compared with other jurisdictions. Therapeutic drugs such as Bute, a pain reliever, are legal if they're administered no later than four hours before a race.

When he was elected president of the Kentucky HBPA in September, Dr. Alex Harthill, a Louisville, Ky.-based racetrack veterinarian, said he strongly supports the use of legal therapeutic medication in racehorses because it is humane. Harthill couldn't be reached for comment, but is said to be preparing a letter to AAEP president Dr. Benjamin Franklin.

Meanwhile, John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said the AAEP report is a "move in the right direction. We have an integrity problem we need to deal with."

Van de Kamp indicated a race-day ban on therapeutic medications other than furosemide may be only part of the equation. He floated the idea that only state veterinarians be permitted to administer Lasix. "Then we'd have no vets around except in case of an emergency," he said.

Dan Metzger, president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, said TOBA doesn't have an official position on the AAEP recommendations but believes "it's a positive step the AAEP is getting involved in the dialogue." He said AAEP officials will participate in a working group TOBA formed last December to look into integrity and medication issues in racing. One of its long-term goals is a uniform medication policy.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, through its Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force, has focused on testing standards and identification of drugs in blind samples. The NTRA has intentionally avoided advocating changes in medication policies in various jurisdictions because it could be put at odds with its dues-paying members.

"So far, we have concentrated our efforts on the testing process," said Chip Tuttle, the NTRA's vice president of communications. "That's where we will continue our focus. It's premature to say where that may lead."

Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the THA has no position on the AAEP report at this time, but that the horsemen's association does support the AAEP's call for a "medication summit" in 2001.