Commentary:  'Roid Rage
Photo: File Photo
Dan Liebman: Editor-in-Chief
When representatives of the Thoroughbred industry visited Capitol Hill Jan. 8 to “educate” congressional staff members on the industry’s progress in regulating the use of steroids in horses—both at the races and sales—their motives were obvious: convince legislative leaders the industry is seriously tackling the problem so the federal government will not have cause to intervene.

The meeting was attended by officials of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, including CEO Alex Waldrop; Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International; and Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. The group indicated it was being proactive, in light of the fact federal hearings are being held to examine steroid use in baseball and other sports. In particular, it pointed to the model rule developed by RMTC that seeks to regulate four anabolic steroids, ban all others, and hopes to have 38 state racing commissions act uniformly to create a national approach to the problem.

Of course, one can imagine lawmakers being skeptical, since there are so many other examples of states working together for the betterment of horse racing.

Since Jan. 8, much has happened on this topic.

In a Feb. 1 release, the RCI reiterated its support for the model rule to regulate anabolic steroids. The RCI’s newsletter also said: “RMTC urges the horse racing industry to avoid letting inaccurate, inflammatory rhetoric interfere with progress toward achieving the goal of uniform regulation of anabolic steroids by the end of 2008.”

The comment on inflammatory rhetoric was directed at Dr. Steven Barker, the state chemist for the Louisiana State Racing Commission. On Jan. 25, at the winter convention of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Barker criticized the model rule, going so far as to call it an “embarrassment.”

One item of contention presented by Barker is withdrawal times, which the RMTC hopes to establish as a result of research currently being conducted at the University of Florida Pharmacokinetics Laboratory. Barker claims suggested withdrawal times have no basis and believes the industry is creating hysteria because federal officials are holding hearings on the subject.

In a Feb. 1 statement, RCI president Martin said while he supported the RMTC’s uniform implementation of the model rule, he did not think it feasible to wait until Jan. 1, 2009, since some states are already pushing forward with implementing it. For example, Pennsylvania has said it plans to begin testing April 1, and Delaware has said it will have rules in place by the time Delaware Park begins its meet April 19.

Martin suggested uniform implementation isn’t practical, which is an understatement, and asked for horsemen to “voluntarily comply today with the model rule knowing that regulators will be implementing it over the coming months.”

This will not sit well with some horsemen’s groups, who want to wait until the threshold level and withdrawal time research is completed this summer and wonder how they will ship horses to run across state lines if there is not uniformity in regulation, testing, and penalties.

The RMTC and RCI, by the way, suggest a $500 fine for the first violation, an amount so low it is laughable.

The Ontario Racing Commission recently passed a regulation for a 90-day suspension for any horse testing positive for a non-therapeutic drug, meaning any Class 1, 2, or 3 banned substance and excessive levels of total carbon dioxide. Every racing jurisdiction should follow Ontario’s lead, placing responsibility with both the owner and trainer.

There are therapeutic uses for steroids in horses, just as in humans. But, as RMTC vice chairman Alan Foreman said, “there is no question that anabolic steroids are being abused.”

We have one chance to get this right, or the federal government will get it right for us.

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