Slow Crawl to Uniformity - by Eric Mitchell

Not unexpectedly, The Jockey Club announced Aug. 10 a call to action for federal legislation to support uniform medication testing and enforcement.

The Jockey Club does not advocate having a federal agency actually responsible for enforcement and testing in Thoroughbred racing, however. Instead, the call to action would involve the pursuit of federal authority for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency—known as USADA—to assume this responsibility on behalf of the 38 racing states. USADA is a non-governmental, non-profit agency created by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2000 to improve its anti-doping initiatives. The agency does get a big chunk of its funding through federal grants.

This push for federal involvement will not be welcomed by many trainers and owners in the racing industry. As one consignor put it during Fasig-Tipton’s recent Saratoga select yearling sale, “The federal government cannot even pass a transportation bill right now; how are they going to get this done?”

The Jockey Club initiative also will be seen as a lack of faith in the tremendous efforts put into the drafting and promotion of the National Uniform Medication Policy, which allows the controlled use of 26 therapeutic medications and includes a program for dealing with multiple violations. Adoption of the National Uniform Medication rules is progressing but not at the pace many had hoped because, in part, many states are beholden to the pace of legislators, who likely don’t see this issue as more important than budget shortfalls, crime, and underfunded school districts. Racing leaders in some states have simply said, too, they’re not interested in the new rules.

As of now, only five states have implemented all four phases of the medication reform policies created by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. The four phases include 1) the adoption of a two-tier drug classification system—controlled therapeutic drugs and the prohibited substances plus the thresholds and guidelines for each of the 26 therapeutic drugs; 2) limiting the administration of race-day furosemide (Salix or Lasix) to veterinarians authorized by the state regulatory body; 3) use of equine drug testing facilities that adhere to RMTC accreditation standards; and, 4) adopting the multiple violation penalties system.

Nine states have fully implemented the drug classification guidelines, and four more are expected to adopt them by the end of the year. Eight states have started the rule-making process, which means racing could have 55% of the states on board by 2015 on this portion of the reforms.

Progress has been slow, but how much faster will it be than trying to work with a dysfunctional Congress on one of the most polarizing issues in racing? It will be a tough slog to be sure. But it is a slog worth making for at least two reasons.

It has been stated the RMTC’s list of therapeutic medications is not set in stone and that additions and deletions to the list will be made as research and advances in medication development warrants them. Whenever a change is made, however, there is currently no structure in place to implement these changes across all the racing states automatically. Some states with racing commissions have provisions to allow the immediate adoption of model rules from the Association of Racing Commissioners International. Others, like Florida, which does not have a racing commission, have to—again—go through the legislative process. And if a legislature doesn’t approve the changes, the patchwork continues.

Another issue of concern are apparent inconsistencies even under current uniformity rules. Even as the RMTC has accredited five labs serving 21 states, there continues to be disparity. An analysis by McKinsey & Co. showed a number widespread variations among testing labs—both accredited and non-accredited. For example, the cost per paired sample ranged from as low as $55 to around $230 among 11 labs. RMTC accredited labs ranged from the $55 level to $190. Why the disparity? Dan Singer, senior partner and the leader of McKinsey’s Sports and Gaming division, attributed it to a difference in testing methodologies and also to differences from state-to-state in what medications must be looked for in a standard screening. It is interesting to note that the cost of processing a paired sample in France averages $340, and $330 in Melbourne, Australia. These costs in France and Australia also include some allowance for research and testing development.

So, really, the industry is still not that close to uniformity in many ways.

The pursuit of a true national policy will not be easy, and hopefully all the groundwork and valuable research already conducted by the RMTC will provide the foundation for this effort. But there is no getting around the necessity of having one clear set of rules that every state adheres to and that can be uniformly amended. Without it, the industry will continue to waste valuable time and money—resources and energy that could be better spent recruiting owners, improving facilities, and growing the sport.


Recent Posts

More Blogs