By: Frank Vespe
In a moment of what Yogi Berra might have called “deja vu all over again,” the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday adopted the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules on medication penalties — rules that most observers thought the Commission had adopted back in 2014.
By unanimous vote, the Commission directed its stewards — “as a policy” rather than as a regulation, said Commission Executive Director Mike Hopkins — to follow the ARCI model rules when assessing penalties for medication violations going forward.
Oddly enough, the decision to tie up one of the state medication policy’s loose ends came on the same day that that policy’s staunchest advocate on the Commission, former chairman Bruce Quade, announced that he was leaving the Commission effective December 1.
“This is the first order of business, as far as I’m concerned,” veterinarian Dr. Tom Bowman, a Commissioner who is heading up the Commission’s medication policy review committee, told today’s meeting.
Alan Foreman, General Counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Vice Chairman of the RMTC, said after the meeting that the state’s horsemen are “absolutely” on board with the change.
Maryland was one of the most aggressive proponents of the national uniform medication program developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) and advocated by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI). That program has four basic tenets:
- third-party administration of Lasix (furosemide);
- a limited list of (now) 30 permitted therapeutic medications;
- accredited testing laboratories; and
- a multiple medication violation point system to enhance penalties on repeat offenders.
The ARCI released the uniform program in July 2013, and by June of 2014, the Maryland Racing Commission had adopted all four of those tenets.
What it had never done, however, was adopt the underlying penalties recommended by the ARCI. That it had failed to do so first came to light last December in a case involving Corvus, the upset winner of the October 2015 Maryland Million Nursery, found to have the prohbited vaso-dilator isoxsuprine in his system. Then, the stewards instituted, and the Commission upheld, merely a $500 fine to trainer Katy Voss instead of the ARCI-recommended $1,000 fine, disqualification of the horse, and redistribution of all purse moneys. In part, Commissioners said at the time, their reluctance to overturn the stewards’ call stemmed from their failure to realize the Commission had not yet adopted the underlying guidelines.
Instead, as it turned out, the stewards were following state medication policy guidelines last revised in 1999 in assessing penalties. Both the drug classification system and some of the recommended penalties in the older document differ from the more modern rules.
“We adopted the list of drugs; what we didn’t adopt was the penalty phase,” Quade said today. “It’s what we didn’t do two years ago.”
Analysis of the Maryland stewards’ rulings by The Racing Biz found as many as eight instances in 2016 when stewards gave lighter penalties to violators than those recommended by the ARCI guidelines.
Though the ARCI guidelines are just that — guidelines — and do allow for the application of discretion in the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances, Commission chairman John McDaniel suggested that these frequent variances from the recommended guidelines played a role in the Commission’s decision today — and will play a role going forward in what appears likely to be a Commission effort to limit the stewards’ discretion on medication cases.
“It’s not that we would feel
“The next step is to decide where the discretionary powers should lie,” Bowman told the Commission today. “Are the stewards the appropriate place?”
But that decision was put off today and may not be dealt with before the end of the year. And it may not be made without controversy. The MTHA’s Foreman said that he believes the current system — in which stewards exercise discretion and cases may be appealed to the Commission — “works well” and is not “broken… by any stretch.”
With the meeting nearing its end, Quade announced his decision to leave the Commission.
“I want to tell you how much I was honored and privileged to be appointed and how much I enjoyed my time on the Commission,” he said. “It’s been an honor to serve with all of you.”
Quade “deserves a victory lap for what he’s done,” McDaniel said. “He’s one of the best chairmen we’ve ever had.”