By: Tom Precious

New York regulators have given final approval to several equine drug rules, including a new system of minimum penalties for repeat drug violators.

The decisions by the New York State Gaming Commission came as the agency Jan. 26 signaled its willingness to listen to suggestions as state officials are committed to other major equine drug and health changes in the wake of a November fine of trainer Steve Asmussen and release of the commission’s probe of allegations leveled by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“These proposals are intended to enhance the integrity of the sport and protect the horse. These proposals are also part of the broader commission goal to improve equine health and welfare,” Dr. Scott Palmer, the state’s equine medical director, told the commission of the still-evolving future rules.

The commission in November cleared Asmussen of the most serious PETA allegations against him, but still fined him $10,000 for less serious agency findings, including administration of thyroxine, a hormone made from the thyroid gland, within 48 hours of a race in violation of drug rules.

As it released its Asmussen report, the commission also put out a list of proposed ideas, including a potentially far-reaching proposal to ban administration of any drug to a racehorse except “as an actual therapy.”

It is uncertain when the new initiative will receive final approval from the regulatory agency.

Palmer told the commission Tuesday that he and other regulators are considering ideas floated by various stakeholders to the list of ideas offered in November, which include efforts to reduce exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage incidents. The commission wants to more specifically define episodes of epistaxis for the purposes of restricting horses from racing, mandate disclosure of such cases to future owners, and require endoscopic exams after such episodes.

The proposed rules also call for requiring a log of all medications given to a horse, which is aimed at trainers and lay employees; there is already a log of drugs administered by veterinarians. The package of proposed rules also include efforts to eliminate “the unnecessary administration of metabolism-modifying drugs,” Palmer told the board, as well as new requirements involving drug prescription renewals, and the effort to ban the administration of drugs “in the absence of an actual medical disorder.”

Palmer told the board that comments so far “are mainly concerned with vagueness and uniformity” in applying the proposed rules. “Staff agrees and will work to be more explicit in identifying what drugs and other substances are addressed by this draft rule,” Palmer said.

In the face of industry concerns, the commission Tuesday moved to back away from a rule first proposed in 2014, but never implemented, to end the current practice that allows race-day administration of topical applications of dimethyl sulphoxide, or DMSO. The agency two years ago moved to add topical DMSO use to the list of 24 other drugs banned from being used within 48 hours of a race.

Rob Williams, the commission’s executive director, told the board the agency received concerns from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association that the rule would be inconsistent with practices in other states, including Kentucky, California, Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The agency consulted with Palmer and New York Drug Testing and Research Laboratory Director George Maylin, who both concluded the race-day use of DMSO “does not pose a threat to racing integrity or the safety and health of race horses.”

The commission, in response, amended its previously proposed rule to continue allowing the race-day use of topical treatments.

The board also gave final approval to a proposed rule that ends the universal, state-funded drug testing of all claimed horses. New York has been the only racing jurisdiction to provide such free testing. Last year, only five positives turned up in claimed horses, and in four cases the trainers obtaining the horses decided against voiding the claim, as is their right. Tests can continue if stewards or judges exercise their discretion on a case-by-cases basis, or those claiming a horse can pay for the tests.

Williams said the state will save $270,000 annually by ending the testing, and he told the board the money would not go into the state’s general fund account but into equine drug research efforts.

The commission, targeting repeat offenders of equine drug rules, gave final approval to a regulation, given preliminary backing in December, enacting a point-type system akin to what most states have in place for motor vehicle law violations.

Recommended by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and the Racing Medication Testing Consortium, the new rule is designed to impose minimum mandatory penalties for drug violations. It is a pillar of the National Uniform Medication Program.

The penalties and thresholds vary, such as those having a “high potential” to affect a race’s outcome getting the most number of points. For example, there would be a license suspension of at least 30 days for someone getting slapped with 3 to 5 1/2 points, while a total of 11 accumulated points will be worth at least a one-year suspension.

The commission said it received no comments in opposition to the proposal, and support from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, New York Racing Association, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the RMTC.