Updated on 09/17/2011 9:49AM

Drug uniformity hampered by infighting within industry


PHOENIX - Familiar obstacles are emerging in the year-old effort to establish uniform medication rules and regulations in the racing industry, officials of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said during their semiannual board meeting here on Sunday.

The potential roadblocks range from long-simmering personality conflicts to persistent differences over how racing regulators should treat the discovery of minute quantities of drugs in postrace urine tests. Although officials emphasized that the obstacles could be overcome, the conflicts have scuttled previous attempts to reach an agreement on uniform rules, an effort that has become a priority for a number of groups who have formed a medication consortium.

Officials for the NHBPA, which represents 32 horsemen's groups in the U.S. and Canada, said during a medication committee meeting on Sunday that other racing groups were attempting to discredit the work of the horsemen's own medication consultant, Dr. Tom Tobin. The horsemen have given Tobin, a University of Kentucky professor, $500,000 in research grants over the past eight years. The NHBPA passed a resolution Sunday that amounted to a lengthy endorsement of Tobin's work.

In candid and often antagonistic comments, some horsemen's officials said that several groups in the consortium were at odds with positions that the NHBPA had developed. Marty Maline, the executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, warned the committee that he had doubts that "the consortium is working in our best interests."

Remi Bellocq, the executive director of the national HBPA, downplayed the comments after the meeting, saying that personality conflicts and policy disagreements were standard for an effort that is bringing together a wide range of organizations.

"Obviously there are a lot of different viewpoints on these things," Bellocq said. "There are competing personalities involved with the consortium, and that's what makes it strong."

The community of racing chemists, which conducts drug tests and performs research, has always faced deep divisions, and Tobin has been at the forefront of that division. Some chemists have complained that Tobin's work advocates liberalized medication rules supported by the groups that pay for his research. Others have complained that he has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on research projects in Kentucky because of rules in the state that restrict funding to Kentucky-based organizations.

Tobin's position with the HBPA has come under additional scrutiny because of an effort by the Kentucky Drug Council, an offshoot of the Kentucky Racing Commission, to hire an Ohio chemist, Dr. Rick Sams, to review Tobin's work. The Kentucky HBPA has strenuously objected to that effort, which is being led by a Kentucky attorney, Ned Bonnie. Officials of other HBPA affiliates also stated their objections at the Sunday meeting, calling the review a potential threat to Tobin's relationship with the association.

"We have very few friends, and a lot of our states are struggling," said Gus George, the president of the Ohio HBPA, who made critical comments about Sams during the meeting. "We cannot allow anyone to take away an asset like Dr. Tobin from us."

Kent Stirling, the executive director of the Florida HBPA and the national organization's representative on the consortium, said, "The Kentucky Drug Council has fired a volley across our bow, and I think this move means a lot to us, and we're not going to have some lawyer and an Ohio lab director tell us we can't have" Tobin as a consultant.

The Kentucky situation is spilling over into the work of the medication consortium because the national HBPA wants Tobin to play a significant role in developing threshold levels for therapeutic medications, over the objections of other consortium members. Threshold levels prohibit chemists from calling a drug positive if the quantity of the drug in a sample is below a limit that is considered pharmacologically insignificant.

A paper prepared by the national horsemen's group advocates threshold levels for more than 30 different drugs. Other industry groups have called that number excessive.

Dr. Scott Waterman, the executive director of a medication and drug-testing task force set up by the National Thoroughbed Racing Association that is playing a leading role in the consortium, acknowledged on Monday that the conflict between supporters of Tobin and chemists with competing viewpoints - such as Dr. George Maylin of Cornell University - is creating difficulties. But he said the consortium is working on solutions.

"We're not going to be able to solve these problems just by blinking our eyes and hoping they go away," Waterman said. "We have to be realistic. That's not going to happen. The solution is going to be figuring out how we can get these people to work together without one of them saying they are not going to participate."