Updated on 01/21/2014 6:44PM

Harness interests balk at new drug guidelines


Representatives of Standardbred horsemen on Tuesday made their objections known to a set of medication rules that are being considered by the New York Gaming Commission to regulate both harness horses and Thoroughbred horses, complicating the efforts by Thoroughbred organizations to obtain final approval of the regulations.

The Standardbred representatives appeared at a hearing on Tuesday called by the gambling commission to take testimony from members of the public prior to considering final approval of the rules, which are being supported for adoption by Thoroughbred organizations in more than a dozen states.

The harness representatives, which included several private veterinarians, reiterated arguments made in other racing states about the need for the rules to treat Standardbred horses differently than Thoroughbreds, citing the higher frequency with which harness horses race and the fact that Standardbreds only very rarely suffer fatal racing injuries, in contrast to Thoroughbreds.

“I think uniform rules are a good idea, I just don’t think they should be uniform between Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds,” said Dr. Peter Kanter, a private vet at several upstate New York harness tracks.

The rules would permit the therapeutic use of 24 medications by setting threshold levels and withdrawal times for the drugs. A positive in a post-race test for any other medication would be considered a violation, which would severely restrict veterinarians’ ability to administer the drugs.

Thoroughbred organizations in at least a dozen states have coalesced behind the rules, which were developed by a wide cross-section of racing constituents over the past several years, as a way to bring uniformity to the sport’s drug regulations and to stave off federal regulation of the sport. New York’s Thoroughbred industry supports the rules, and no New York Thoroughbred representative asked to appear at the Tuesday hearing to object to any aspect of the rule.

But because the rules apply equally to Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, final approval of the rules for Thoroughbreds could be delayed as regulators attempt to address the criticisms from harness horsemen. When asked whether the commission would consider conducting separate votes on the rules for each breed, Lee Park, a spokesperson for the gambling commission, said in an e-mailed statement that the commission “will fully review and evaluate the comments heard today, as well as any other public comments that come in through next Monday, and then make a determination on the best way to proceed.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, harness horsemen repeatedly objected to a rule restricting the use of the bronchial dilator clenbuterol to at least 14 days prior to a race. The rule was put in place in order to prevent horsemen from using the drug for a widely known and well-researched side effect, the ability to build muscle mass when used regularly.

Harness representatives and vets said that the 14-day withdrawal would effectively ban the drug because harness horses typically run once a week. Several also said that clenbuterol use is not widespread in harness racing, and that trainers do not exploit the drug for muscle-building effects, despite heavy abuse of the drug in Thoroughbred racing.

“I’ve never seen it used in harness racing that way,” said Philip Langley, the president of the United States Trotting Association.

Peter More than 1 year ago
Funny how the harness people wouldn't go along with guidelines. Maybe because 99.44% of all the Drugs being tested for originated in the Harness Game!!!. The key to Harness racing is not soundess issues like thoroughbreds, but rather internal [breathing, pumping blood] .. a la Lance Armstrong. Wake up people, when someone says its not about the money , its about the money!! I say let them open the flood gates and make it a level field till the "wiseguys" get a hold of the next generation
gus stewart More than 1 year ago
I would like to see one trainer who takes a horse or horses and moves them up without gelding them or adding lasix and say to the racing commission and stewards" ok i am going to move this horse up 5 lengths or over in final time and I am doing something with chemistry or enhancing performance products. So now you know in advance and I pay extra for these products so what can any of you do about it !!!! Answer nada because the industry has no one to stop it and that's the biggest problem of getting new owners to buy horses because they cant compete!!! Solution hay oats water AND lasix on backside all vets and persons searched at gates going on backside if caught with anything else suspended for 5 years PROBLEM SOLVED!!!
WWW More than 1 year ago
a few decades ago, when someone like Allen Jerkens would take over the training of a horse, you would see the horse gradually improve over time, a result of top-class horsemanship....nowadays, a horse gets claimed by a certain trainer, and within 2 weeks they undergo a complete transformation. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what is going on.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
In the last 35+ years that I have been following this sport, race day medication has changed drastically. Back then: 1. 2YO races at any track, anywhere in the country did not allow any medication whatsoever. 2. Any race in the entire state of New York...whether thoroughbred or harness...did not allow any medication whatsoever...that is what made New York racing great...at least back then. 3. Outside of NY, medication legislation differed greatly from state to state. Generally, if the race wasn't in New York, you weren't really certain of getting a fair shake for your wager. Back then, it was common to see a thoroughbred run back in 14 days...even 10...or 7... from their previous start when inside their form cycle. Fields were full. Today..."recency" can be defined as a period not exceeding 28 days...the "old" definition was half of that. In NY...Oscar Barrera brought horses back in 3 or 4 days to win...without medication. We have all seen steroids run rampant in recent years; only in the last 2 years has the industry been clamping down on this. Ironically, professional athletes were being grilled by Congress at the same time Big Brown was competing for the Triple Crown...and let us not forget what steroids do the reproductive systems of humans...the same thing applies to horses. Now we have a shortage of horses in general; this is even more acute when one considers how many that are sound and are capable of competing every couple of weeks. It is all too obvious that relaxing medication rules has contributed to this situation. I think that in order to get this turned around, the situation needs to be addressed now. Not pursuing this aggressively will only continue to racing's demise.
peter k More than 1 year ago
Mostly all good points but you lost me when you used Oscar Barrera as an example
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
Oscar...and Laz....were both training around the late 70's and early 80's...the era that I was referring too. I think during the Aqueduct winter meet, Oscar used to vie for leading trainer. I used to buy a Form everyday back then. I paid special attention to NY. I do recall on several occasions where Oscar brought back a horse in 3 or 4 days; if the horse didn't win, it would definitely be in the hunt.
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
Not quite correct: Actually, in the days before Lasix was permitted on race day starting in September 1995, horses in New York State were allowed to TRAIN on Lasix and Bute along with several other drugs that in other states were not permissible IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER so long as those drugs were NOT administered within 48 hours of post time. It was not quite the hay, oats and water era, but it was a lot different than now for sure.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
Walt...thanks for the clarification. It was "race day" medication that I meant. And...it sure has changed...not for the bettor (pun very much intended...)
Claire More than 1 year ago
Race Track owners/operators should be held liable for letting race rigging by drugs continue to go on for decades. It's appalling that no Federal agency has taken control of this situation. It's blatant theft !
john d More than 1 year ago
Why tolerate the use of ANY drugs in any type of racing? My question is that simple.
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
say no to drugs! right on!
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
If the most important argument for drug "uniformity" (which has been repeatedly given in the past) is to give trainers some certainty and predictability about what is required in each jurisdiction, then there is no rational need to apply such standards to standardbreds unless thoroughbreds are going to be racing them on the same track. If the goal is to advance mindless "uniformity" in order to push push push push (unneeded and detrimental) federal oversight, then you'd better support "uniformity."
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
what else is new ?.horsemen against drug enforcement how telling is that.
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
Muscle building using drugs? Best way to build muscle is competent training methods and good feed and supplement. This trumps drugs any day.
gus stewart More than 1 year ago
Patricia do you understand we now live in the year 2014!!! If your theory was the truth, we would still have the the trainers who lead the standings in Thoroughbred racing in the 80s and 90s atop them now. Also the times in standard bred racing have improved over 5 seconds over the last 8-10 years on average. Bless your honesty and integrity but we have no commisonair of racing thus your way doesn't keep playing field fair
Jason Kassa More than 1 year ago
ever seen a bodybuilding contest ?
jttf More than 1 year ago
if bute isnt important in harness racing. why use it. lou pena had over 1700 violations. if horse racing can not detect illegal use of meds/peds with their testing. then you shouldnt be able to use it.
gus stewart More than 1 year ago
FYI They said Lou Pena had over 1700 violations!!! Well why did it take sooooooo long to find them. He was training within the standard bred medication rules he just happen to do better for whatever reason then others. When you win too much and you allow more than hay oats and water on any backside in any racing industry, this will continue. Some guys will do better then other even if they don't do anything illegal within guidlines