Stating The Case For Medication Reform

by | 08.24.2015 | 11:33pm

For those of us who are following (or intimately involved in) the nationwide conversation about Thoroughbred industry medication reform, the last couple of weeks have been some of the most colorful we've had yet.

In major industry forums – The Jockey Club Round Table Conference and the Saratoga Institute on Equine, Racing & Gaming Law – supporters of the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 (THIA) methodically laid out our case. In response, detractors are now throwing far-fetched arguments against the wall to see what sticks.

For me, much of this has been a trip down memory lane to the mock trials we had in law school — with all of their imaginative and sometimes rather fantastical arguments. And since I know that the facts are on the side of supporters of THIA, I've enjoyed the current debate.

Take, for instance, the argument by some that this legislation isn't needed because states have the ability to enact the Association of Racing Commissioners International's (RCI) model medication rules (National Uniform Medication Program, or “NUMP”) on their own. Their argument is that if all racing states would just enact NUMP, they could collectively handle nationwide anti-doping matters better than any single outsider.

The fact is that since the RCI endorsed the NUMP, less than a quarter of the horse racing states — and none of the major racing states such as New York, California, Florida or Kentucky — have fully implemented the program. Only 20 percent of all races in the U.S. are run under the full set of these uniform rules. Disarray remains the norm.

Further, as with any anti-doping program, the NUMP requires consistent updating and upgrading to keep up with violators, and by taking a state-by-state approach those updates and upgrades will be done on a piecemeal basis. For example, NUMP compliant equine drug-testing laboratories have missed critical positive tests and there are strong suggestions by regulators that the NUMP lab standards require further strengthening. Any updates to those requirements would require approval by 38 distinct government organizations, each with its own political processes, constituencies, desires, goals and impediments. The same would be the case with regard to changes to the NUMP medication lists or penalty provisions. As NUMP will constantly be in flux, so will the rules among the various racing jurisdictions.

The unfortunate fact is that two major dynamics play against the best efforts to come to uniform, comprehensive anti-doping regulations: The industry's state-by-state governance system, and the inherent conflict of interest in self-regulation.

That's why we believe that only a single, independent, non-governmental authority like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) can help bring uniformity and the high standards of testing and enforcement required to maintain the sport's integrity in the minds of our fans, bettors and the public.

But for some of those opposed to THIA, USADA's sterling history of performance and effectiveness is subject to petty pokes and attacks. Despite USADA's proven ability to adapt and scale to its ever expanding list of oversight responsibilities in sport, some voice concerns that horse racing is too different, too big, too ungainly to come under their purview.

Of course, this has already been thought through. The entity created by the THIA, the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority (THADA), would have a board composed of USADA and racing industry experts, and its anti-doping program would be based upon the marriage of the best of USADA's world-class experience in enforcement and testing with the deep knowledge of persons who have had long-term involvement in our sport.

Some argue that THADA can never be successful because of the differences between human and equine physiologies, but the need and method for effective testing protocols, uniform standards and penalties, as well as proper lab accreditation is the same. USADA quickly built a world-leading anti-doping program for United States Olympic athletes following its inception in 2000.

Suggestions that THADA cannot do the same for Thoroughbred racing are wrong. It would enjoy participation and input from our industry and would implement best-practices tailored to horses and racing for uniform testing, uniform penalties, well-designed out-of-competition testing, and fully accredited labs to deter cheaters.

We find the THIA approach so compelling that we hope other breeds will sign on. While some detractors have pointed to the fact that THIA currently does not include non-Thoroughbred racing, let me assure you that the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity is more than willing to support amendment of the bill to cover other breed organizations that wish to pursue this path.

Finally, one of the more far-fetched arguments going around is that THADA would have the right to summarily shut down interstate wagering regarding a track that is not compliant with THIA or where horsemen are consistently violating THADA's anti-doping program.

First, the bill provides that THADA's jurisdiction is over “anti-doping matters,” and it further provides that the bill does not “modify or eliminate any of the consents, approvals or agreements required by the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 or impair or restrict the operation and enforcement of state law or regulation of Thoroughbred horse racing with respect to matters unrelated to anti-doping or for violations of state or federal criminal law.” Second, where there is violation of the anti-doping rules or even serial violations, the person(s) who commits the violation would be penalized according to the rules then on the books — neither tracks nor states would be sanctioned.

The history of this industry shows that a state-by-state regulatory approach to medication matters simply isn't capable of effectively identifying violators, deterring cheaters, and administering penalties.

We know that change isn't easy and that well intentioned people skeptical of any approach involving Congress (even if the federal government will have no regulatory role) will have questions and concerns. The Jockey Club, along with all members of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, is happy to work with others on points of interest and substance. But we also believe this is a serious discussion and that it should be based on facts, not conjecture, supposition or hyperbole.

The creation of THADA would be the result of a unification of representatives of the world's top anti-doping body with people who have real-world Thoroughbred industry experience with the goals of protecting our athletes and the integrity of our game.

And it would accomplish something that we all claim to want: national, uniform standards, penalties and enforcement.

Let's start with that as common ground and have a real debate on how best to get there.

Marc Summers is the vice president and general counsel of The Jockey Club.

  • Naprovnik Naprovnik

    Marc, I think the problem is the “common ground”: some people just don’t want any changes.

    • That should read most people, or at least many!

      • longtimehorsewoman

        Agreed. It is some people who really want change and most people do not.

    • ben van den brink

      Replace that by, quite a lot of people do not want any changes.

      Some people keep up, about all what went wrong. But nobody can check, the amount of medication giving in a certain timeframe. Nor the specific timeframe.

      Nor the speed in processing all of the medication given to a horse.

      Do the testing yourself I would say. Or puts up a couple of extra days.

  • Karl Bittner

    I guess it’s either too early for comments or there is no argument against it, finally. I wish it were the latter and everyone was on board.

    • The reasons there are so few comments are that a) this commentary takes time and thought to read and b) there is not room left to argue the points because it is so simply and well written.

      • guest

        Bee Eye, the reason there are so few comments is that most people heavily involved in this most well debated issue are a) sick and freakin tired of you’re anti-Lasix crap, and b) that all in this wonderful sport support rules which prohibit and punish those who administer PED to horses. You’re anti-Lasix years gone bye rhetoric has grown so old that nobody cares anymore! And, YES, I am posting under an alias so you can go ahead and reply with you’re usual bs rhetoric. Bottom line is—if you would put a stiffel on the Lasix bs we may be able to move forward to meaningful PED rules which will put all on a level playing field!

        • ben van den brink

          Iam sick when Iam only reading your comments nameless. And Iam sticking to clean horseracing just Zero medication. Except some.

          So I do think that this bill is not gooiing far enough. The pitts Udall is the prefered one in my european eyes, but things are different in the states. Ilearned.

        • It’s difficult to agree that it’s a well-debated issue when one side refuses to accept that racing without Lasix is possible. Given that Lasix-free racing is proven to work perfectly well, what can be the motive for retaining it?

        • That is an absurd premise. Obviously you missed reading my last Op-Ed in the TDN in which I said that I didn’t sign on for this battle to fret over the use of Lasix, but to rid the sport of PEDs. Sorry if I ruined your premise pal.

  • Alex

    Much of this mess is of the Jockey Club’s own making. An arm of the Jockey Club, the Racing Medication Testing Concortium RMTC developed wrong thresholds and wrong withdraw times that are now written in the ARCI’S Model Rules. You know, the thresholds and withdraw times that the RMTC arm of the Jockey Club) couldn’t or wouldn’t produce in the Deleware case where Todd Pletcher had the Betamethasone positive thrown out because of the RMTC’S incompentence. The same wrong thresholds and wrong withdraw times that many states like New York, Florida, California, and Kentucky reconize The Jockey Club’s & RMTC’S multiple failures, and didn’t incorporate this junk in there rules.
    Most people want uniform rules that are in the best interest of the horses. Uniform Rules based on sound scientific evidence. This is far from what The Jockey Club and the RMTC have created.

    • Naprovnik Naprovnik

      So … what’s being discussed is a step up: a change. New rules….

      “…That’s why we believe that only a single, independent, non-governmental authority like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) can help bring uniformity and the high standards of testing and enforcement required to maintain the sport’s integrity in the minds of our fans, bettors and the public….”

      • Alex

        The problem(s) with this Jockey Club sponsored Federal Legislation is the same bunch of wrong thresholds and wrong withdraw times developed by the RMTC and Jockey Club are written in the bill.

    • In Europe no-one trots out that fatuous “in the best interest of the horses” argument. How come?

      • Alex

        You say
        ” In Europe no-one trots out that fatuous in the best interest of the horses argument. How come?”
        That I don’t know. However in Europe they eat horses. We think eating horses is NOT a good idea in the United States.

        • guest

          If I hear that old “Euros do it differently” one more time I will go Postal! Euros don’t allow Lasix because it would taint their favorite cattle substitute meat, i.e. horse meat! The only people on here who publish any thoughts to support European racing are—guess what—racing in Europe— and they publish these same old Pro-Euro anti-Lasix comments to justify their own failure that they are not good enough at what they do to make it in the USA!

          • I do hope that you are not considering invading in order to teach us the error of our ways! Seriously the reason that [mainly] Ben v d B, Tinky, and I keep referring to European rules is to rebut the idea that medication is necessary upon humanitarian grounds, and that even race-day controls are inhumane. Unless attitudes to routine medication alter, the problem of PEMs will not be resolved.
            { European racehorses have their passports endorsed to the effect that they will never enter the food chain, however that is fairly recent and the zero tolerance had been in place for decades. There have been several scandals about false passports for slaughter horses – all covered up by the racing authorities – however that is a separate issue to the fact that European racehorses have been obliged to run medication-free for many years.}

          • ben van den brink

            There have been some pretty harsh action, at the people which falsify horsepasports lately.

            Some vendors (meat processors) quite lately were forced out of buisiness completely, sending 150 workers into unemployment.

            Forced into bankrupticy. Bankrupticy means something different in the Netherlands than in the US as you keep the rest of your life responsible for debtors etc.

            Not one horse has become a sound horse, thanks to running with the sh.t in his/hers body.

          • longtimehorsewoman

            “Not one horse has become a sound horse, thanks to running with the sh.t in his/hers body”. Boy that is the truth!

        • ben van den brink

          Why, the meat from the US slaughtered horses is so tainted, it gives very much risk to the consumers.

          While horse meat is extremely good on nutrients that are valuable .

          Not that Iam esting horsemeat.

          We do not believe that the overflow from medications is in the best interest for the horse nor for the industry as starts has been dropping from 30 in the eighties to 18 nowadays in the US.
          In my believing it is just abusiv.

          If the horse needs medications no problem, but rest them and starts later on again.

        • PeteN

          aren’t they eating US horses?

        • One thing at a time Please.

  • Very well stated. Unfortunately, the tail is wagging the dog. Below the top level of competent trainers of the best horses in America, there are too many trainers and vets that insist on being able to throw everything including the kitchen sink at horses in order for them to try to pay their way and keep their human connections in business.

    So while the entire spectrum of racehorses and human connections is being brought down by this crowd, they throw one road block after another to keep their precious drugs.

    By doing this they are bringing those that race and aspire to race at the top level down to their tawdry base. We need this new legislation to elevate the game at all levels and make our sport one that we can all be proud of. We don’t need horses hopped to the gills on the leaky roof circuit dimming the shine of our Champions at the top of the game.

    • takethat

      Great comment Barry. Thank you.

    • SteveG

      I agree that there’s an aggressive overuse of legal medications – but why exclude the top level? Without mentioning any names, do you think some of the top level trainers don’t push the envelope? I’d also speculate that the most expensive, cutting-edge, undectable illegal products are in use in the top level of the sport where the rewards for winning are great. The fellows sweating to pay their bills can’t afford the stuff.

      In other words, with the obligatory exceptions of honorable men & women playing fair, I believe the sport is corrupt under the theory that permissive medication regulations, little consequence for violations & economic pressure to produce races, creates a drug culture & that is what drags the sport down.

      That’s why, while I think uniformity is a step up, we have a long way to go before we’ll have a sport we can all be proud of. Medications for ill or injured horses – yes, on their road to recovery as part of the therapy. However, to truly have a sport we can all be proud of, horses should be racing medication-free. Based on the howls of protest against Barr-Tonko, imagine if we went to, say, BHA rules. It would be nuclear.

      • Maybe I didn’t make my point as well as I should have Steve. I agree with you. My point is that the top level–the most visible publicly and the level that propels the sport–is being dragged down by the lowest level, whose players are the most demanding when it comes to the use of drugs.

        • SteveG

          Or, perhaps I need to brush up on my reading skills, eh? In any case, now I get you. It’s certainly not the top level dragging down the bottom!

          • There are things at the top that require some serious scrutiny, which is why I for one cannot wait for the investigative arm of USADA to zero in on the half-dozen or so major cheaters in virtually all top locales in U. S. racing. I have a strong hunch some winning percentages could be set for some rather precipitous declines.

        • longtimehorsewoman

          How is that different? Implying that they are “dragged down” implies they are innocent. I hardly think so.

      • longtimehorsewoman

        I agree that it’s foolish to think the upper level trainers are innocents. Give their fame they are probably MORE up to date with undetectable drugs, than those who are less successful.

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