By: Tom LaMarra
Of the four major components of the National Uniform Medication Program, the multiple medication violation penalty system has been adopted by the lowest number of jurisdictions. But one official April 11 said he expects that to change.
New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association chairman Alan Foreman, during a presentation at the Racing Officials Accreditation Program spring conference at Delaware Park, said the MMV penalty system addresses a problem identified as one of the biggest in horse racing.
“This needs to get done and we’re going to get it done this year,” Foreman said. “If you get one call about anything in (the uniform medication program), it’s about the points. The trainers don’t want these points. It’s a very effective enforcement tool.”
According to Racing Medication and Testing Consortium statistics, 11 states have totally adopted the National Uniform Medication Program. Nineteen adopted the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule, 17 have third-party administration of race-day furosemide, 27 employ accredited laboratories, and 12 have the MMV penalty system in place.
Under the MMV penalty system trainers accumulate points and suspension days based on the classification of drugs under the Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines. Points for confirmed positive tests for non-controlled substances are twice those for therapeutic medications on the schedule of substances commonly used to treat conditions in horses.
Foreman said the THA soon will launch a website that will offer comprehensive information on the uniform medication program, including details on the MMV penalty system.
The RMTC began laying the groundwork for the National Uniform Medication Program in the mid-2000s not long after its formation. Mid-Atlantic racing states in 2014 worked to unify their own rules for horsemen that race in multiple neighboring states, and the effort spread nationally.
A major impetus for the Mid-Atlantic effort was a rash of catastrophic breakdowns at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York. A task force identified use of the anti-inflammatory drug methylprednisolone acetate—Depo-Medrol—and, even though cut-off times were established, horsemen’s groups recommended it not be used if a horse is racing.
“We’ve seen an absolute sea change, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic, with use of this drug,” Foreman said. “It’s now being used in a very cautionary way. The drop in breakdowns in the Mid-Atlantic and New York has been dramatic.”
Foreman acknowledged claims by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association that some of the withdrawal times and testing threshold levels for substances on the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule needed to be changed, but that overall the research and science is supported.
“There were a few drugs where the science was weak, but do you want to keep (those drugs) on the list and continue to use them or put them in the (criminalized) basket?” said Foreman, also vice chairman of the RMTC. “We’ve tried to ‘decriminalize’ overages for therapeutic medications and provide guidelines for their use.
“For those who say we haven’t accomplished anything good for racing, they don’t know what they’re talking about. We had a meeting in the Mid-Atlantic last month, we asked if anyone had problems, and there wasn’t one complaint. They like it. It’s working.
“These represent the biggest changes in racing in a generation. We don’t need the federal government; that’s a lot of noise. If we turn it over to the federal government, it will come back to us and ask how to do it.”
In another presentation, RMTC executive director Dr. Dionne Benson discussed what she called “emerging threats” and how the industry has addressed them, including gamma-aminobutyric acid, commonly called GABA. It’s endogenous in horses and, when administered, serves as a calming agent.
It is believed GABA was being given to some horses four hours before races.
“The whole goal was to calm a horse and keep it from running its race in the stall,” Benson said. “But it also becomes a horse-health issue.”
Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission chairman Duncan Patterson said he believes third-party administration of furosemide, also called Lasix or Salix, helped cut use of GABA four horses before a race.
“(Third-party administration of Lasix) is as important if not more so than some of the other (components of the uniform medication program),” Patterson said. “We know for a fact vets were putting GABA in with Lasix. The third-party administration of Lasix has cut down on abuses.”