Backpedaling on Progress - by Eric Mitchell

How many ways can the racing industry find to undermine its own efforts? Sadly, too many.

The most recent surfaced last week when the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association announced it wanted to pay for new research that would set thresholds and withdrawal times for 28 therapeutic medications allowed under the National Uniform Medication Program.

Withdrawal times and thresholds for these substances have already been established by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and adopted by 18 states and partially adopted by seven others. Apparently, however, HBPA members don't trust them. The contention is that the recognized withdrawal times and thresholds have not been peer-reviewed and also have caused some trainers to reportedly get unfairly dinged by positive tests. Once it has its owns thresholds and withdrawal times, the HBPA next wants them integrated into Association of Racing Commissioners International's model rules.

We're going backward here.

An American Association of Equine Practitioners Racehorse Medication Summit led to the RMTC's creation in 2001 as a sorely needed coordinated effort to address the most basic elements of a uniform medication policy. The consortium represents 23 industry organizations: AAEP, American Quarter Horse Association, Arabian Jockey Club, ARCI, Breeders' Cup Ltd., California Thoroughbred Trainers, Churchill Downs Inc., Del Mar Thoroughbred Club; The Hambletonian Society, The Jockey Club, Jockeys' Guild, Keeneland, Kentucky Horse Racing Council's Equine Drug Research Council, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, National HBPA, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, New York Racing Association, Oak Tree Racing Association, The Stronach Group, Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, Thoroughbred Owners of California, and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations.

Since its inception, the RMTC has overseen $2 million in drug testing research projects. According to RMTC executive director Dr. Dionne Benson, the organization has paid for research on 30 therapeutic medications with the results either published or submitted for publication for a majority of the substances. Some thresholds, for example phenylbutazone and flunixin, have thresholds that pre-date the RMTC, having been in place for more than 10 years.

When the HBPA claims published research doesn't specifically point to a given threshold, Benson said that does not mean the science behind the threshold does not exist.

"You will see that very few of the published works include specific thresholds for Thoroughbred racing, which is not the goal of many of these publications," Benson said. "But the data is out there and the research can be replicated that supports our thresholds. The Scientific Advisory Committee has a very measured and very deliberate process."

Alex Waldrop, RMTC chairman, said the RMTC Scientific Advisory Committee consists of 17 or more of the top vets, chemists, and pharmacologists in the United States.

"Their credibility has never been successfully challenged by any court evaluating the quality of the research or the expertise of its members," he said.

After the RMTC had its list of approved therapeutic medications, the organization worked with ARCI's board of directors regarding the withdrawal times.

Now suddenly these efforts, monitored and endorsed by a broad base of stakeholders, are all wrong and need to be redone--not by the RMTC--but by one member, which is also lobbying for assurances that its research could supersede all others.

If a trainer has received a drug positive unfairly, we have rules in place already to challenge the results. Split samples can be tested. If a case involves contamination, trainers can request special tests, at their expense, to identify the specific substance involved. We have due process. So if the rules are in place and regulators follow the rules, there is no need to tear down the regulatory framework so many individuals in the industry have dedicated years toward building.

"It ultimately comes down to the fact these are the most restrictive rules people have seen and they can be challenging for people not accustomed to operating in a highly regulated environment," Benson said. "What's being proposed is unfortunate. We're going to end up spending more money we don't have in unnecessary ways. It will be difficult for the industry to move forward."

National HBPA CEO Eric Hamelback made the following statement regarding the new testing proposal: "We want uniformity, but we want it done the right way. We need to work together. We don't want to tell people we're giving up on a compromise."

Unfortunately, the HBPA's latest call to action is sending the completely opposite message.

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