By: T.D. Thornton

Five proposed new rules dealing with Thoroughbred medication, prohibited substances, minimum drug penalties, out-of-competition testing, and airway bleeding in racehorses were advanced to a 45-day public-comment period by the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) at the board’s monthly meeting Jan. 23.

Board members only briefly discussed specifics of the broad set of changes before what appeared to be a series of unanimous voice votes of passage, and much of the meeting’s business consisted of NYSGC executive director Robert Williams reading into the record a set of recommendations written by NYSGC general counsel Edmund C. Burns (see a copy the meeting packet here) that explained the rationale behind each of the proposed rules.

Several of Burns’s explanations about the proposals referenced “The Asmussen Report,” which was a 176-page study released by the NYSGC in November 2015 that cleared trainer Steve Asmussen of 10 of 14 specific “unfounded” allegations about horse mistreatment while fining him $10,000 for multiple violations of administering a synthetic thyroid hormone supplement within 48 hours of raceday.

In the Asmussen Report, the NYSGC forewarned that the commission would pursue “sweeping equine drug medication regulations,” going forward. Now, 14 months later, these new rule proposals represent the NYSGC’s attempt to follow through on that vow.

In addition to tightening its own state rules as they pertain to the sport’s controversial twin topics of drug cheating and Thoroughbred welfare, the NYSGC appears to be cognizant that if these rules eventually get adopted, New York will be setting an example for America’s other racing jurisdictions to follow.

For example, when asked by a board member what impact a proposed minimum penalty enhancement might have, Williams answered, “I think it will be greater acceptance by other states in the model national rules, which will allow a progressive, nationwide penalty structure. [Acceptance nationwide] will be more widespread.”

The five proposed rules (summarized below from explanations provided by the NYSGC) will all be published in the New York State Register, after which they will be subject to a 45-day public comment period. That means the earliest they could be enacted would be at the NYSGC’s March meeting.

Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH): Would require trainers to maintain a record of serious EIPH episodes, which are defined with the universally used one-to-four grading system, and epistaxis (visible bleeding from the nostrils). In general, the most salient portions of the rule would require that a horse that has experienced a serious EIPH episode must be subjected to another endoscopic examination following the horse’s next race or workout, and trainers would be required to provide such information to subsequent owners within 48 hours of a request for it. The proposal would also codify the standard practice of excluding a horse that experiences epistaxis for specific minimum time periods.

Minimum Penalty Enhancement Rules: Initially adopted by the NYSGC in February 2016, these rules were designed to ensure that a mandatory minimum penalty is imposed whenever a horseperson reaches a certain level of multiple equine drug violations (MMV). The proposed amendment is intended to conform New York’s rules to changes in the national model rules recently adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI). The proposed revisions will focus the MMV system on those who consistently violate serious medication and anti-doping rules and assist in developing national consistency in regard to punishment.

Out-of-Competition Testing (OCT) Rule: Intended to conform the existing rule to the national model rule of the ARCI. In January 2015, the NYSGC authorized a proposal to amend the Thoroughbred OCT rule to match updates to the state’s Standardbred OCT rule. But before the proposal was published in the State Register, a national effort to revise the ARCI Model Rule was undertaken. As such, that new proposal was not published. Now, the NYSGC’s 2015 proposed amendments, together with recommendations from many other sources, are contained within the new ARCI Model Rule.

Prohibited Substances: Would implement several rulemaking proposals recommended in the Asmussen Report. Two industry comments were received. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) expressed support for the intent of the proposal, but raised general concern with possible vagueness and suggested the NYSGC develop a rule proposal that enjoys national, uniform support. The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) suggested a similar cooperative commitment, but sought discussion regarding the regulation of certain substances.

Trainer Medication Logs: Would require trainers to keep a record of medications administered after having been dispensed by veterinarians. NYRA raised concern with the rule as being impractical, suggesting that few trainers would adhere to the requirement and suggested the NYSGC instead develop a rule proposal that enjoys national, uniform support. NYTHA suggested no concern with the record-keeping requirements, provided the proposal did not interfere with the administration of non-injectable substances a trainer might need to administer in emergency situations when veterinarians are not available. Anti-ulcer medications commonly added to feed and other non-injectable Class 5 drugs rated “harmless” by the ARCI would also be excluded.