Just Do It: The Blood-Horse 8/25/15

By Tom LaMarra

In March 2013 eight states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast—Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—announced their intentions to adopt uniform regulations governing equine medication rules and drug testing.

The effort, spearheaded by the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which represents owners and trainers in many states in the compact region, has since morphed into the National Uniform Medication Program. The program has four components: the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule; regulatory or third-party administration of the race-day drug furosemide, also called Lasix or Salix; laboratory accreditation under the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium; and the multiple medication violation penalty system.

It was noted during a recent law conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., that in the more than two years since the program was announced only nine racing states have implemented all four components. Others, however, are in the process of doing so at a pace that often is dictated by state statutes and related legislative approvals.

Some can argue the progress—given horse racing’s history of inaction on issues of importance—has been phenomenal due to the sensitive nature of the issue. Others can argue it’s not good enough or quick enough and that state-by-state uniformity will never work.

That said, there is almost universal agreement that the National Uniform Medication Program is worthwhile and necessary. So the focus should be on its adoption.

Enter California, where adoption of the program is underway. On Aug. 20 the California Horse Racing Board, after hearing concerns from veterinarians and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, shelved taking action on third-party administration of Lasix until a later date. Questions over the language in the regulation as well as liability issues are legitimate, but the issue has been on the table for about three years. Why the delays?

Other racing states viewed by many as inferior to California, such as West Virginia, had no issues adopting the new program perhaps because a good rule evaluation system had been put in place beforehand. Industry stakeholders have regular meetings to discuss rule changes, come to a consensus, and present the rules to the racing commission, which approves them knowing all groups are on board.

The only delay in the rules taking effect is created by the West Virginia legislative calendar. That is one of the drawbacks of the state-by-state system; otherwise, rule adoption has been like clockwork.

According to reports and documents submitted to the CHRB, a group of stakeholders in 2013 submitted a proposal to have private vets administer Lasix under CHRB supervision. A similar program is in place in Indiana, and it conforms to the National Uniform Medication Program.

The CHRB in a follow-up release Aug. 22 was almost apologetic in saying it remains committed to adopting not only third-party Lasix administration but the full program. That’s great; so do it.

Shadowing all this is the introduction of federal legislation that would permit the United States Anti-Doping Agency to oversee equine medication policy, drug testing, and enforcement. For obvious and understandable reasons, including the issue of states’ rights, many racing regulatory agencies oppose the effort.

For racing commissions that do oppose it, the question is this: Why would you weaken your argument against the federal bill by failing to adopt quickly and completely the National Uniform Medication Program? And given the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., the state-by-state program is critical to the integrity of Thoroughbred racing whether or not federal legislation passes.

Not only is California a major racing state, but it has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships the last three years and is scheduled to do so again in 2016 and 2017. Last year Breeders’ Cup, in the absence of a state regulation, hired its own vets to administer race-day medication.

It’s well within the rights of Breeders’ Cup to make full adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program a prerequisite to host the World Championships. Might that happen sooner rather than later?