By: Tom LaMarra

The Maryland Racing Commission has developed statutory language that will allow it to adopt updates and changes to model rules—most recently the one on out-of-competition testing—as they are approved by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

The MRC, which held its monthly meeting Feb. 23, falls under the state Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation. MRC Executive Director Mike Hopkins said the department suggested the commission make written modifications that will allow it to avoid having to repeatedly submit new rules for approval.

“It makes (the process) much simpler,” Hopkins said. “We asked for emergency status while the rule is (reviewed).”

The MRC in January approved the out-of-competition testing rule and the updated ARCI Prohibited Substance List under an emergency provision.

The commission at its meeting also said it would review a request from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to alter a claiming rule that requires a horse to run back in Maryland for a tag 25% higher within 30 days of a claim. The MTHA board of directors, after hearing concerns from horsemen, voted to ask the MRC to reduce the number of days to 20.

About 15 trainers at the January MTHA board meeting said the combination of a three-day racing week, the spacing of races in the condition book, and the claiming rule have made it difficult to race horses back within a reasonable period after a claim. On Feb. 23 trainer Hugh McMahon told the commission he claimed a horse Jan. 8, and it still hadn’t raced back.

“All the owner has done so far is pay bills,” McMahon said. “(The rule) is pushing out owners. This isn’t an isolated thing. I understand the need to improve the integrity of the sport, but we’re feeling the effects of this rule. We just want a little relief.”

The proposal wouldn’t change the requirement that a horse race back at a tag 25% higher. The current rule was enacted as part of an equine health and safety assessment after a spike in the number of catastrophic racing injuries at Laurel Park in 2012-13; previously, a horse could be entered for any price after a claim.

Hopkins said there was no evidence the claiming rule was 100% responsible for the breakdowns. He suggested the MRC Safety and Welfare Committee revisit the matter given comments from the MTHA and Maryland Jockey Club.

Alan Foreman, Chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and MTHA general counsel, said a review of claiming rules in the Mid-Atlantic region and other states shows they are “kind of all over the map.” He said he plans to add the issue to the agenda for a THA-organized regional meeting of racing stakeholders, including racing commissioners, in Delaware in late March.

“We will be dealing with equine safety and welfare issues, and there’s no reason this shouldn’t be part of the discussion,” Foreman said. “We should discuss whether there should be a (standard) regional rule. It will be an instructive session designed to develop and implement strategies on a regional basis.”