Progress on the Race Day Medication Front?

Are we are making progress in addressing the issue of race day medication in the United States? That’s a question I hear a lot these days.  My answer to that question is a qualified “yes.” 

You see, in June of 2011, the NTRA -- together with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners -- hosted the International Summit on Race Day Medication.  That two-day event led to the formation of a number of RMTC working groups including a committee I chaired that was asked to develop a new model rule to govern both regulatory administration of furosemide (commonly referred to Lasix) and the elimination of adjunct bleeder medications like Amicar, Tranex, Estrone, and Kentucky Red, which 11 states still allow in addition to Lasix (the “RMTC Committee”). 

The RMTC Committee consisted of a knowledgeable group of representatives from tracks, horsemen (both trainers and owners), veterinarians and regulators.  Using the experience of regulators and others in New York and Canada, the group reached consensus on a range of integrity reforms needed at tracks nationwide. That consensus reached by the RMTC Committee became the basis for a recommendation by the entire RMTC board to the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) Model Rules Committee. That RCI committee and the full RCI board adopted an amended RCI model rule based upon the RMTC board recommendation (the “Amended Model Rule”). Eight months later, the Amended Model Rule is the basis upon which Kentucky will soon implement a new rule that allows only Lasix on race day and requires that Lasix can only be administered by veterinarians or vet technicians working for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC). 

In Kentucky, adjunct bleeder medications will no longer be permitted within 24 hours of a race and the confusing Lasix adjunct or (LA) designation will no longer appear in the racing program.  And Lasix will be administered to horses in their stalls no later than four hours before a race by KHRC vets or vet techs. This keeps private vets out of the stalls on race day and lowers the overall cost of Lasix to $20 per administration.  More importantly, it assures competitors and horseplayers alike that the only drug or medication horses will receive on race day in Kentucky is Lasix, and the only vet treating the horse in the hours leading up to the race is a regulatory vet. 

Vets or vet techs working under the program will report any suspicious activity or findings to the state stewards.  Administration procedures have been adopted by the KHRC including security and surveillance on race day to insure proper implementation of the Amended Model Rule. Kentucky correctly understands that an essential part of an effective pre- and post-race drug testing regimen is tight security and surveillance.  To assure integrity, there must be regulatory “boots on the ground.”

Kudos to Kentucky for adopting the Amended Model Rule but will other states follow the lead of New York, Minnesota and now Kentucky?  This remains to be seen.  States have no excuse for failing to adopt the Amended Model Rule because regulatory administration and adjunct elimination are significant changes that need to be implemented nationwide now irrespective of what is ultimately done about race day Lasix.     
To facilitate nationwide adoption, the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance has added adoption of the Amended Model Rule to the Alliance Code of Standards. This means that to be accredited by the Alliance, either (i) the racing commission in the state where the accredited track is located must adopt and fully implement the Amended Model Rule or (ii) the track pursuing accreditation must actively seek adoption of the Amended Model Rule by the regulatory authority in its state. Failing adoption and implementation of the Amended Model Rule by the relevant racing authority, every track in that jurisdiction could lose its accreditation.  This Alliance advocacy requirement is the primary way in which several accredited racetracks have already helped bring about uniform, nationwide implementation of many of the RCI model rules.

It’s true that the Amended Model Rule does not change the fact that most horses are being treated with Lasix on race day, so for some the Amended Model Rule does not go far enough.  But the Amended Model Rule is universally supported by horsemen, tracks, vets and regulators because it is an important tool in the fight to deter cheaters. And ridding the business of cheaters is one area where we all agree.

Update:  Just after this blog was posted, it was reported that a legislative committee voted against implementation of the Amended Model Rule in Kentucky. It appears that the Amended Model Rule is being blocked for now because of a dispute over race day Lasix.    

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