By Tom Lamarra
The model rule regulating use of anabolic steroids in racehorses is flawed and not based on scientific evidence, and the current state-by-state roll out of the regulations is problematic, horsemen’s representatives said Jan. 25.
The issue, which has been simmering for months, was aired out during the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association winter convention in New Orleans. Steroids were the primary topic during a meeting of the organization’s medication committee.
The model rule was devised by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a broad group of industry stakeholders, including horsemen. But Kent Stirling, chairman of the National HBPA Medication Committee and its representative on the RMTC, said things haven’t gone according to plan.
“There are some problems with the model rule,” Stirling said. “I don’t think it’s quite ready for prime time. I sit on the RMTC, which has done good work. I’m not bashing it. But mistakes were made.”
Issues addressed in a National HBPA draft position on regulation of steroids include a statement that the RMTC model rule is intended to regulate, not ban, anabolic steroids. It also suggests that threshold levels for testing in blood are needed, as are studies using an appropriate number of horses–no less than 20–to set those levels.
In addition, the draft position paper says all four regulated steroids–boldenone (Equipoise), nandrolone (Durabolin), stanozolol (Winstrol), and testosterone–should have the same classification under the RCI drug classifications. There also is no link in the model rule between threshold levels and withdrawal times–something the National HBPA believes is necessary.
Dr. Steven Barker, state chemist for the Louisiana Racing Commission, took a hard-line stand on the model rule and regulation of steroids in general. He blasted the industry for allegedly playing politics and using a haphazard approach that could prove detrimental.
“The model rule as drafted is an embarrassment,” Barker said. “The group that put this together should be taken out and beaten. What we’ve heard is an awful lot of misinformation and mythology.”
Barker said studies in England and France were used to set values in the model rule; there are testosterone limits for fillies, mares, and geldings, but not stallions; and the presence of more than one of the four identified steroids is not allowed, though two or three may exist naturally in a horse’s system.
Some states moving forward with the model rule, or some variation of it, have warned horsemen to cease administering steroids up to 120 days before race day, which in effect amounts to a ban. The RMTC recommended withdrawal time is 15-30 days, officials said.
“These long withdrawal times have no basis or fact,” Barker said. “I thought the RMTC was supposed to prevent this, to remedy it. What kind of hypocrisy can this industry tolerate from its leaders?”
Barker then indicated the horseracing industry is generating hysteria because federal officials are holding hearings on steroid use in baseball and other professional sports. He also said arguments that steroids are banned in racehorses in Europe for integrity purposes are faulty, given the fact that horses can be used for human consumption in Europe, and therefore can’t be given steroids.
Thus far, one bill that would ban steroids in racehorses was filed last year in the United States House of Representatives in conjunction with other provisions concerning jockeys.
“Thanks to the leaders of this industry, we may have to consider federal regulation of anabolic steroids,” Barker said. “The industry is once again using politics, coercion, and threats to push agendas.”
Peggy Hendershot, senior vice president of legislative and corporate planning for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said after the Jan. 25 horsemen’s meeting the organization had received word from legislative staff members on Capitol Hill that legislation could be in the works. The NTRA attempted to be proactive by outlining what the industry is doing on the steroids front, she said.
“One of the purposes of going there was to educate (lawmakers) about what is legal and what is a therapeutic use,” Hendershot said. “The infrastructure of our business enables us to follow, track, and establish criteria (for use of steroids in horses).”
Dan Fick, executive director of The Jockey Club and chairman of the RMTC, also attended the medication committee meeting, which drew a crowd of about 150 people. Afterward, he indicated he was taken aback by Barker’s comments.
“All I can say is, I wish the RMTC representatives on the panel had the opportunity to refute some of the statements he made,” Fick said. “There was as much mythology in what he said about the RMTC. I can assure you, there are no hidden agendas on the board.
“We’re trying to establish uniform regulations across state lines. For Dr. Barker to make these comments makes it very difficult for us to work with horsemen.”
Barker said he simply wants a consensus on therapeutic uses for steroids, a focus on the pharmacological affects they have on horses, and scientific data to support whatever regulations are put in place.
“Of course, steroids should be regulated,” Barker said. “But our decision to regulate them should be based on science and common sense.”
Stirling again reiterated his call for regulation of steroids to take effect nationally, not state by state. Earlier in January, Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, suggested Jan. 1, 2009, as a starting date, given the fact that state-by-state adoption of the model rule could spell trouble for horsemen who regularly ship horses across state lines.
“Essentially, we said the same thing,” Stirling said. “This is not ready yet.”
Just hours after the National HBPA meeting, Mid-Atlantic regulators issued a joint statement saying they plan to implement regulations for steroids as soon as possible.