By Tom LaMarra

The Association of Racing Commissioners International will put out for comment a broad equine welfare proposal that would sanction anyone found to have used excessive amounts of substances to the detriment of racehorses.

The proposal was introduced by Rick Goodell, executive director of the New York State Gaming Commission, during the RCI Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee meeting April 23 in Tampa, Fla. RCI president Ed Martin was quick to note attorneys would be consulted during the examination process.

“I froze in my tracks the first time I heard about it, because it represents a whole different approach,” Martin said. “This is a way to get out in front of these problems. It might be an important sea change for the industry, to protect horses from people pumping things into them with no idea what (the substances) might to do them.”

Martin said lawyers have suggested the concept is good because it would shift the burden of proof onto the alleged violators to show what they did to horses.

The regulation would target over-administration of medications and other substances not consistent with accepted veterinary practices. There currently are no baselines for testing in the proposal, which is where the legal issues can arise.

“We have to define this a lot more before making a rule,” said Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission.

Committee chairman Duncan Patterson, who chairs the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, said horsemen and others would be consulted during the comment period. DTRC executive director John Wayne said he likes the idea.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Wayne said. “If I found out anyone did something to put a horse in distress, I would minimize that person’s participation in my jurisdiction.”

Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Racing Commission chair Dr. Corinne Sweeney said she supports the concept, but noted a “key point” will be ensuring any charges are “scientifically defensible” with baseline numbers for any substances alleged to have been used.

RCI made equine health and welfare, as well as anti-doping measures, the focal point of its annual conference.