By: Frank Angst

The New York State Gaming Commission has put together a proposed rule it hopes would add scrutiny to the practices of racetrack veterinarians.

The proposal would require vets to limit drug administrations to treatment of ailments and preventative medical procedures. The rule was outlined March 24 by NYSGC equine medical director Dr. Scott Palmer and NYSGC general counsel Rick Goodell at the Association of Racing Commissioners International conference in New Orleans.

Palmer and Goodell are working to add the rule in New York and as an ARCI model rule. Presented to the ARCI Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee, the rule will now go through a period of public comment.

“At this point we’re passing this around for input,” said Palmer, who noted New York spent a year getting to this point. “This is not just a New York problem. I think it has national implications.”

“No drug may be administered except to provide a generally accepted treatment for a diagnosed medical disorder or as a generally accepted preventative medical procedure,” the rule states. “No drug may be administered without a veterinarian having examined the horse and provided a treatment recommendation.”

“We’ve removed the license of vets to practice at our racetracks and they simply continue to practice off the racetrack and there’s nothing we can do about that,” Palmer said. “This rule would give us the opportunity to hold a vet accountable no matter where they’re practicing in the state.”

Palmer noted racetrack veterinarians, in a competitive atmosphere, can be pressured by trainers who request treatments that go beyond treating ailments or preventative medical procedures.

“There is a tendency on the backstretch for some trainers to influence the practice of veterinary medicine,” Palmer said. “I was a practitioner. I practiced 15 years on a racetrack. If a trainer has five horses with me and wants me to do something I’m not comfortable with, I might tell them I’m not comfortable with that and they may say, ‘See you later.’

“If that trainer has 150 horses, then that’s a real problem for a vet who doesn’t want to lose that valuable client. If we can introduce the concept that a veterinarian is held accountable for his license for some period of time, that’s going to be a game-changer in terms of that conversation with the trainer. No vet is going to take the risk of losing their license, or at least they’d be less likely to.”

Palmer said he believes the rule would help regulators address medication issues on the front end.

“There is a need to address up front the inappropriate administration of medication to horses,” Palmer said. “So many times we’re playing catch-up with drug tests and even following up with new rules.”

Palmer said the rule is consistent with the National Uniform Medication Program. He said in New York and other states, such rules already are on the books of veterinary regulators. He said the rule began to take shape a year ago and has been improved since then, and that he anticipates tweaks following the comment period.

Goodell noted that the rule came out of the investigation of the Steve Asmussen stable, which followed accusations of horse abuse from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Goodell said the investigation showed that the Asmussen horses were treated very well, but the NYSGC wanted to address public concerns about the over-medication of horses.

Goodell said the rule includes protections for vets and trainers who would have the opportunity to show administration of a medication was done in good faith to treat a medical condition.