By: Nicholas Bergin

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s zero-tolerance policy toward race horses testing positive for certain drugs looks to be coming to an end.

As part of an overhaul of state racing rules, Nebraska is on course to adopt a schedule dictating thresholds at which horses will be allowed to test positive for traces of some therapeutic drugs.

The Nebraska State Racing Commission held a public hearing Wednesday in Lincoln on 31 proposed rule changes, including the new drug test rules.

Having a zero-tolerance policy is a rarity among horse racing states. It’s common practice for horses to be given medication for such ailments as ulcers a few days before they race. Under the proposed change, traces of those drugs could show up in urine or blood samples taken at the event without triggering penalties. Now, any trace of certain drugs would result in a positive test, said commission Director Tom Sage.

The schedule the racing commission has proposed adopting was created by the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium, a collection of 23 organizations including horsemen’s groups, breed registries, racetracks, racing regulators, industry associations and veterinarians. The schedule already has been adopted entirely or partially by 19 other state regulatory horse racing organizations that make up 90 percent of the racing handle in the United States, Sage said.

But some in the industry feel the proposed thresholds remain too stringent, including Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association President Barry Lake and Equine Veterinarian Stacy Van Horn.

Van Horn also criticized the science behind the proposed rules.

Racing officials have been working on the 31 rule changes for two years. It will be the first update since 2007 and will bring Nebraska regulations in line with other states, Sage said.

The proposed rules still have to be reviewed by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office and Governor’s Policy Research Office, approved by Gov. Pete Ricketts and filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Most of the other rules changes dealt with cleaning up state regulations and addressing noncontroversial therapeutic drug issues.