Letter from The President: Spring, 2014
June 09, 2014
There have been a host of voices raised lately berating our industry for its lack of progress on medication reform. Those broadcasting that position simply are not telling it like it is.
Here is the real story. We are not standing still. We are not sitting on our hands. Progress is being made. The national uniform medication program, the multiple medication violation penalty system and lab accreditation are three initiatives that are moving forward from coast to coast. The states that have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, the uniform medication program represent 88% of the national handle.
Admittedly, change does not always happen as quickly as we, or anyone, would like. The process for rule change is different in each jurisdiction. Some states need to make legislative changes, some need to go through a regulatory body, which is a process that often requires open hearings and a period of public comment. Some jurisdictions have to do both. Politics often hinder the process--surprise, surprise. But, slow or fast, we are making real progress. It has been talked about for decades, and now it is really happening.
This isn't just positive reform. This is historic, impactful reform.
At the heart of these changes, beyond uniformity, are longer withdrawal times for medications including corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Longer withdrawal times ensure that there is no pharmacological effect on the horse, not only at race time, but in the morning before the race when the horse undergoes the mandatory inspection by the track veterinarian.
The withdrawal time for clenbuterol has been extended so that using it for anything other than its intended purpose--in horses with significant lung issues--is virtually out of the game.
While we in New York technically are still in the process of adopting these programs, we have been racing under most of the medication guidelines for the past 18 months. During that time, the fatality rate has dropped by 40%. It is much lower than the national average, and lower than many of the jurisdictions using synthetic surfaces. The horses and the riders are performing in a much safer environment.
The program is working, yet there is more work to be done. The multiple medication violation initiative is designed to target those who repeatedly break our rules. It's a pretty simple system, one that is used every day in both criminal and civil court.
For repeat offenders, in addition to the initial suspension for the infraction, anything from 30 to 60 to 360 days can be added, depending on the classification of the medication involved.
It's a point system: the more points you accumulate, the bigger the sentence, until you may not be able to play at all.
To further bolster the initiatives already outlined, in New York we are recommending the adoption of the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules. Included in those rules is the mandate that a trainer who has been suspended will not benefit financially during the period for which he or she has been suspended.
The accrediting of laboratories is well under way. All but four of our testing facilities already meet the international standard for analytical laboratories, and five, responsible for testing in 23 of the 34 racing jurisdictions, now meet the decidedly tougher requirements necessary for RMTC accreditation, which conforms to the WADA Code. It is the strictest accreditation standard in equine sport internationally. A demanding state-of- the-art standard has been set, accompanied by a continuing "Quality Assurance" program to ensure that the standard of excellence is maintained. RMTC Code accreditation is a requirement of the national uniform system.
In the face of this meaningful progress, what is disappointing is the constant marginalization of these terrific advances by those who refuse to recognize any progress unless it includes the banning of Lasix. Those who profess to care for our industry are doing it a great disservice by not enthusiastically trumpeting these reforms. Whatever your stance on Lasix might be, declarations of an industry at a standstill, to an audience that might not know better, is irresponsible and does not come close to representing the truth.
There is progress being made, the industry is not standing still, and the real impact of these changes is saving horses' lives.
NYTHA President Rick Violette Jr.