By: Tom LaMarra
The West Virginia Racing Commission has agreed to ask state government officials to help facilitate quicker adoption of two important model rules approved by the Association of Racing Commissioners International in December.
The WVRC at its Jan. 24 meeting also announced plans to expand its out-of-competition testing program this year beyond the three graded stakes held at its two Thoroughbred racetracks.
The two model rules—one for a modified Multiple Medication Violation Penalty System and the other for stronger out-of-competition testing—received broad support from industry stakeholders last year. West Virginia has existing rules in place but state statute only allows for approval—or modification—of regulations once a year via the legislature.
“We’re required to have our rules to the legislature in July every year, and at that point we’re done for the year,” said Kelli Talbott, Senior Deputy Attorney General for the WVRC. “The only option is an emergency rule, but to be fair, that’s not an easy route. We’ll make an effort to see if it’s a possibility.”
Talbott said redoing to the out-of-competition testing rule is “a more complicated case because the commission already has amendments to the rule pending before the legislature,” which recently began its 2017 session. She said that last summer, the existing West Virginia rule was updated based on draft revisions by the ARCI, which later in the year made further changes in response to industry concerns.
“Because the rule is now pending, it may not feasible to file an emergency rule proposal,” Talbott said. “The only way to do it is to engage the legislature directly, but we will need authorization from the Secretary of State and the governor. It will remain to be seen whether we are successful or not.”
WVRC Executive Director Joe Moore indicated pursuing an emergency rule to update the MMV Penalty System, one of four components of the National Uniform Medication Program, may be a bit easier because there are no amendments pending in the legislature. He told the commission that emergency rules—if approved—are in effect for only 15 months, which means the updated rule would need to be included in this year’s legislative request.
“We need as a commission to make sure everyone understands we go as many routes as possible to get these rules in effect,” WVRC member Bill Phillips said. “We’ve been cited as one of the best states in (adopting uniform rules), and I hope we uncover every rock to get this done.”
Talbott noted an effort led by ARCI to have racing states join a national compact that would allow them to automatically adopt model rules and subsequent modifications as soon as they are approved by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and ARCI. Phillips, who represents the WVRC on the ARCI board of directors said “work is being done to look at the compact as an alternative to some of the federal (legislation) being discussed.”
Moore said the commission is working with management at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort to perform an additional 30 out-of-competition tests at random through 2017. The state began its program by using the tests for graded stakes only and is working toward expanding the reach of out-of-competition testing each year.
In a related matter, Talbott told the commission that Alan Foreman, Chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, has reached out in regard to scheduling a March meeting for racing stakeholders in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions; topics will include medication and equine health and safety.
Similar meetings were held several years ago as the region launched what became a national program for uniformity in equine medication and laboratory accreditation. The eight racing states in the two regions—Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—have all adopted the four components of NUMP.
The WVRC during the Jan. 24 meeting also reported that the racing fatality rate at Charles Town in 2016 dropped to 1.59 per 1,000 starts, its lowest level in five years. EID averages for 2016 have not yet been released, but in 2015 the fatality rate on dirt surfaces was 1.78 per 1,000 starts.
“You’re not going to handle the racing surface the exact same way year to year due to weather never being identical, but our track maintenance team by and large approached the track in a manner consistent with how they’ve approached it the last few years,” Charles Town Vice President of Racing Operations Erich Zimny said. “That’s not been a variable year to year. If you look at the 2016 numbers, generally speaking, the lower catastrophic injury rates came in months we ran three days a week, and this was the first time I can find where we ran three days a week in some months.
“In the four months we had the three-day a week schedule, the injury rate was actually slightly under one horse per 1,000 starters, while in months we ran four days a week, it was 1.83 horses per 1,000 starters. Also, if you look back at certain licensed trainers or caretakers who have been involved in some of the fatal injuries previously, a lot of those people no longer compete here for a variety of reasons or do so far more infrequently. It’s obviously difficult to empirically prove that those were the two variables causing the low catastrophic injury rate for 2016, but they are extremely compelling.”