Updated on 01/21/2014 5:44PM

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.