In light of its continued concerns over withdrawal times and threshold testing levels for therapeutic medications included in the National Uniform Medication Program, the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association Feb. 6 indicated it plans to help fund research that would be peer-reviewed and published.
The horsemen's group for a few years has gone back and forth with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which approves the guidelines and submits them for consideration by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. There are now 28 substances that are part of the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule.
The National HBPA, which met in Clearwater Beach, Fla., for its winter convention, claims withdrawal times and threshold levels for 21 of the 28 medications commonly used in racehorses but not on race day have no published research to support them. The RMTC, a group of more than 20 industry stakeholders, has repeatedly said that's not the case.
National HBPA Medication Committee member Dave Basler, executive director of the Ohio HBPA, noted some of the guidelines were revised after they led to inadvertent positive tests.
"The way to change the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule is to do the research ourselves and go back to the ARCI Scientific Advisory Committee," Basler said. "There's no better use of funding than for protecting members from medication violations that were based on them following published guidelines."
The ARCI in late 2014 formed the new committee after the United States Trotting Association defected from the RMTC because it wanted separate model rules for clenbuterol and corticosteroids. Because ARCI, a member of the RMTC, represents all racing breeds, it couldn't solely rely on the RMTC for recommendations.
Representatives of some National HBPA affiliates suggested the association, before making financial commitments to research, get assurances from ARCI that any research they help fund will be considered in the model rule process.
"I hope (ARCI officials) realize there are issues and (allow us) to help put in thresholds that are scientifically based," National HBPA chief executive officer Eric Hamelback said. "The Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule was done quickly, and a lot of the data was extrapolated. It's a good starting point, but we need to take a hold of it.
"We can't cry for something we're not willing to put the (resources) into. Uniformity is not going to go forward unless we do the research. I think we're very close and have the mechanism now to get that done."
Earlier in the day during a national legislative update, National HBPA government relations liaison Brian Fitzgerald, who has his own lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., said there has been little movement regarding the proposed Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015.
The measure, supported by the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, would grant the United States Anti-Doping Agency authority over equine medication policy, drug testing, and enforcement. It was introduced in the House of Representatives in June of last year and has 21 sponsors, but a Senate companion bill hasn't been introduced.
"It has stalled," Fitzgerald said. "Only two of the 21 sponsors sit on committees with jurisdiction over the issue."
Fitzgerald said a report last year by the Congressional Research Service that raised constitutionality questions with the legislation slowed its progress as well, as did opposition from Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. The two lawmakers believe the coalition's bill doesn't go far enough, so last year they introduced legislation that would repeal the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.
"It's not something they will pursue, but it was a shot across the bow," Fitzgerald said.
Meanwhile, the coalition recently said it expects to have a Senate sponsor in the near future, and that the Senate version of the bill would be expanded to include all racing breeds. It also believes a committee hearing on the bill could be heard as early as April.
Hamelback said he has met with The Jockey Club, the lead organization on bill, as well as lawmakers to present the National HBPA's view.
"We reiterated the point not to touch the IHA," Hamelback said. "There isn't a compromise on that. We want uniformity but we want it done the right way. We need to work together. We don't want to tell people we're giving up on a compromise."