New medication rules are going into effect in California tightening what already are the strictest drug regulations in North American horse racing.
The California Horse Racing Board in January voted to approve and send out for public comment an amendment redefining cutoff time for many medications – including non-steroidal anti-inflammatories – to midnight on the day entries are taken. The measure was formally adopted as an emergency rule in February after the CHRB received no opposition.
At Santa Anita, currently, entries for Friday's live programs are taken on Sundays. A midnight Sunday cutoff for medication puts administration of phenylbutazone at more than 96 hours for Friday racing. Previous regulations permitted administration of Bute at 48 hours.
Entries for Saturday programs are taken on Wednesdays, with Sunday entries taken on Thursdays. Under this new rule, because of the schedule for when entries are taken, horses racing on weekend days, thus, will have different withdrawal times for medications than horses racing on Fridays.
The new amended rule also states: “Water, hay and grain may be provided to the horse up until post time. Drugs, medications or any other substances shall not be administered by any means to a horse after it is deemed entered to race.”
The exceptions for medications that can be given after midnight of the day of entry are:
- Topical medications (such as antiseptics, ointments, salves, leg rubs, leg paints, hoof dressings, liniments and antiphlogistics) which do not contain anesthetics or other prohibited drugs.
- Any of the following substances may be administered by injection until 24 hours before the post time of the race in which the horse is entered: injectable vitamins; tetanus antitoxin or tetanus tocoid, if the horse sustained a wound; approved anti-ulcer medications; not more than one glucocorticoid, including adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
- Furosemide (administered by third-party veterinarians four hours pre-race; though its use is being phased out).
Only water may be used to wash the horse's mouth on race day.
Some trainers who received a text message reminder from CHRB of the new rule on Thursday night said they were caught off guard by the rule changes, which the text message said was supposed to go into effect on Wednesday, Feb. 26. The rule change apparently does not affect horses entered for this weekend's programs at Santa Anita.
“I was floored,” said Eoin Harty, the president of California Thoroughbred Trainers. “I think everyone was dumbfounded, including Stronach Group management (which owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in the Bay Area).”
Harty on Friday morning called the situation “very fluid” and suggested a moratorium on the rule going into effect. There is also talk of changing the schedule for when entries are taken for California racetracks.
Dr. Rick Arthur, the CHRB's equine medical director, said horsemen should have been aware of the change.
“This is a new rule that was publicly noticed and with no opposition except for a minor amendment offered by The Stronach Group in the January (CHRB) meeting,” said Arthur. “Subsequent to that no opposition was filed with the CHRB board, and they are surprised? I find this bewildering.”
During the January CHRB meeting, when this rule was first adopted subject to public comment, Arthur called the redefinition of entry time from 48 hours to midnight of the day entries are taken as a “major major” change.
Addressing Dr. Gregory Ferraro, the CHRB's chairman and like Arthur a former racetrack practitioner, Arthur said: “Back when you and I started, Dr. Ferraro, 48 hours was the standard. Nowadays we have 72 hours, we have 96, 120, even in some instances, 144 hours.
“So what happens is, is that these horses, at 48 hours before their race, they get Robaxin, they get DMSO, they get all sorts of different concoctions. And what we're trying to do is move that back so that, frankly, giving a Robaxin shot at 96 hours, you might as well put it on the floor. So we're trying to discourage this pre-race treatment with that particular provision.”
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