Various members of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, the group of industry organizations promoting passage of federal legislation that would bring uniform standards to our sport under the direction of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, have spent a good deal of time with representatives of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) over the course of the past year, listening to their concerns and sharing insights about the revised legislation.
So it was disappointing to see, on June 6, the AAEP Racing Committee stating its opposition to the legislation.
The new bill includes a ban on the race-day medication furosemide (Lasix), and the AAEP's current policy on race-day medication administration endorses the use of furosemide to help mitigate the occurrence of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage in the racehorse.
The AAEP Racing Committee's recommendation, adopted by the general association, seems to be based upon a preference to maintain a system that tolerates a hundred practices harmful to horses just so it can allow one race-day drug that might benefit one horse in 10.
Why haven't the British and Australian equine veterinary associations taken a similar stance on race-day furosemide if the drug is so important for equine health?
Are they less informed or do they care less about horses than the AAEP?
If this bill fails to be enacted, all we have left, as an industry, is the hope and prayer that 38 separate, highly politicized racing commissions will act uniformly to create and maintain a high standard for medication regulation in horse racing.
We all know that is a fairy tale.
My disappointment in the short-sighted AAEP position is compounded by what I perceive to be an inappropriate current system of providing veterinary care to horses.
Equine veterinarians enjoy a unique role in the medical world: in the course of treating horses, they are able to diagnose, prescribe, and sell drugs. That is a big and lucrative business. (For the record, there were approximately 43,000 races and horses made about 323,000 starts in North America in 2016.)
By opposing H.R. 2651, the AAEP has, in essence, voiced its approval for our patchwork of good rules and bad rules, high-standard testing and lowest bid testing, and even-handed prosecution and sloppy or even malicious prosecutions.
Interestingly, there is a provision in Section IV of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics which reads, in part: “A veterinarian shall respect the law and also recognize a responsibility to seek changes to laws and regulations which are contrary to the best interests of the patient and public health.”
I would argue that holding up reform of an entire unhealthy system over the use of one drug that may help only about 10% of the population in fact violates this tenet.
And who will benefit the most from maintaining the status quo?
Very simply, those who will continue to profit from it.
When I joined the Water Hay Oats Alliance, I made my feelings clear, and I feel the need to reiterate some of them now.
As a Thoroughbred breeder and owner, and president of a commercial breeding farm, I assume personal responsibility for the welfare of the horses in my charge. I willingly shoulder the obligations that horse ownership demands.
We must personally ensure that horses regain their position as the heart of this industry, and a large part of that endeavor is the elimination of the seemingly limitless medications and the return to a pursuit based on respect for the horse.
It is regrettable that a formal mandate may be required to achieve this goal, but we need to ensure that we have a level playing field like all other sports — with no medication on race day.
If the industry as a whole does not make these changes, it's not the horses that have failed us — it is we who have failed the horses, and we will all pay the price.
The primary mission of the AAEP is to improve the health and welfare of the horse. By opposing this legislation, the AAEP is acting like a special interest group.
And the interest they are protecting is their own.
Antony Beck is the president of Gainesway Farm and a supporting member of the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA).
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