Members of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium haven’t backed away from a call for regulation of anabolic steroids in racehorses, but on Jan. 31 they endorsed a Dec. 31, 2008, deadline for nationwide adoption of a model rule.
The move comes after several days of upset in the wake of comments by a chemist and horsemen’s groups that the model rule is flawed, and state-by-state adoption of regulations could be problematic. The Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association suggested a January 2009 start-up for regulation and testing.
“Our entire board firmly believes that the regulation of anabolic steroids in racehorses is essential to the integrity of horse racing and the welfare of the horse,” RMTC chairman Dr. Robert Lewis said in a statement. “We are confident that the majority (of people) in racing agree with this position, and this is evidenced by the fact that, while there have been public statements questioning how this should best be achieved, there have been no calls for abandoning the goal of regulation of anabolic steroids.”
The 23-member RMTC and Association of Racing Commissioners International model rule calls for the regulation of four androgenic anabolic steroids and bans the use of any other anabolic steroids in racehorses. The four anabolic steroids--stanozolol (Winstrol), boldenone (Equipoise), nandrolone (Durabolin), and testosterone--can be regulated through testing in blood and urine.
Nandrolone and boldenone are naturally occurring in intact males, and testosterone is naturally occurring in all horses. All four are permitted for use in the horse by the Federal Drug Administration.
The current model rule provides screening levels in urine that have been used to successfully regulate these anabolic steroids internationally since 1976 and are based on published research from England, France, Japan, and Australia, the RMTC said in its Jan. 31 release.
In order to provide threshold levels in blood for steroids and to reduce the anticipated costs and better facilitate the testing, RMTC is funding anabolic steroid research in both plasma and urine at the University of Florida Pharmacokinetics Laboratory. When completed by this August, the research will give horsemen, veterinarians, and regulators definitive threshold levels and withdrawal times for anabolic steroids in both plasma and urine, the RMTC said.
Kent Stirling, chairman of the National HBPA Medication Committee and a board member of the RMTC, was among those who called for more study into steroids regulation and changes to the model rule.
On Jan. 31, Stirling said in a statement: “HBPA welcomes the regulation of anabolic steroids based on scientifically established thresholds and published withdrawal time guidelines, and a targeted national implementation date. We have never tried to stall these recommendations and are very pleased with the actions taken by the RMTC.”
Said RMTC co-vice chairman Chris Scherf, who serves as president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations: “We realized that there are testing and logistical issues individual state racing commissions must work through before adopting this anabolic steroid model rule and implementing the penalty phase, but RMTC believes every racing jurisdiction should be strictly enforcing the regulation of anabolic steroids by the end of 2008.”
The RMTC is encouraging states to be uniform in adopting the model rule, and not to adopt stricter standards and establish more severe penalties than what the RMTC recommends. While RMTC must wait for the completion of the Florida research study before definitive withdrawal times can be recommended, the range is anticipated to fall between 30 and 45 days, numbers that have been suggested by some officials.
The RMTC and RCI recommend a $500 fine and disqualification of the horse for the first violation; a $1,000 fine, disqualification, and a 15-day trainer suspension for the second violation in a 365-day period; and a $2,500 fine, disqualification, and 30-day trainer suspension for the third violation in a 365-day period.
The recommended penalties could be reduced or increased if warranted by extenuating circumstances. In addition, the RMTC said it “strongly encourages state racing commissions to give the horsemen sufficient forewarning before starting the penalty phase of the anabolic steroids model rule after final adoption.”
Horsemen have told The Blood-Horse they are concerned that a haphazard approach to implementing the regulations could lead to unfair penalties for trainers as well as create problems when horses regularly ship from state to state for racing purposes.
“This is a very emotional issue on all sides,” said Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the THA and a member of the RMTC board. “It needs to be handled carefully, responsibly, and uniformly. The next 11 months will give the entire industry sufficient time to address the testing and regulatory issues that need to be resolved and allow for the necessary adjustments.”
National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop reiterated his position on steroids. Waldrop was involved in a meeting on Capitol Hill at which racing industry representatives outlined steps the industry is taking to regulate use of steroids.
“Given the scrutiny of anabolic steroids by the media and Congress, and the consequential negative perception of these drugs by the public, the horse racing industry must take initiative on its own volition to properly and uniformly regulate the use of anabolic steroids in racehorses this year,” Waldrop said.
On Jan. 29, the Maryland Racing Commission, which was poised to implement steroids regulation by late summer, said the model rule and testing procedures needed more study. The commission said it would shoot for the end of the year to have the regulations in place.
Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, noted Jan. 31 the RMTC and Dr. George Maylin at Cornell University are performing research regarding steroids. He said that, even if the model rule was adopted as currently written, it wouldn’t be in place until June at the earliest, and if it was changed, the regulatory process would have to start over.
“There are a lot of questions without good answers,” Hopkins said. “We’re trying to be consistent and coordinated in the Mid-Atlantic region. We’re trying to do it the right way.”
As of Jan. 30, other states planned to move ahead with regulations. Delaware, Indiana, and Pennsylvania already have set late-winter or early-spring starts for testing.