10/17/2001 11:00PM

HBPA recommends threshold levels

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The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association called on states to enact threshold levels for 12 therapeutic medications in a report it released on Thursday in Lexington, Ky.

In addition, the report calls for zero tolerance for performance-enhancing drugs and unspecified limits on the administration of Salix, the popular raceday anti-bleeding medication previously known as Lasix, a recommendation that is already generating criticism from some quarters of the industry.

The report has been in development since the summer, and many of its conclusions are not new or controversial. But for the first time, the national horsemen's group has put forth policy recommendations that it says are endorsed by at least 20 of its 33 member affiliates. Disagreement among horsemen over the differences in drug policy in different states has been one of the strongest impediments to creating uniform medication rules.

"This is saying that we need a level playing field," said John Roark, president of the national horsemen's group. "That's all we want. If we want to run in Kentucky, Delaware, or New York, then we shouldn't have to be rocket scientists to figure out what medications we can use."

The policy would loosen medication regulations in many states by allowing a small amount of certain medications to be present in post-race urine samples by setting threshold levels. In theory, any amount of a drug found in concentrations lower than the threshold level would be considered too minute to affect performance.

The 12 drugs the policy recommended for threshold levels include clenbuterol, the popular but controversial bronchial dilator, and acepromazine, a tranquilizer.

Although the recommendations did call for controls over the amount of Salix that could be administered to a horse, it avoided calling for a specific level, such as 5 milligrams, which is the standard in most states. Most regulators place a limit on the amount of Salix that can be given to a horse before a race because of fears that the diuretic can dilute a urine sample and hinder drug-testing efforts.

Only two states, Kentucky and Louisiana, do not regulate the amount of Salix that can be given to a horse on race day. The Kentucky affiliate of the national HBPA has resisted any calls for regulation.

Dr. Alex Harthill, the longtime Kentucky veterinarian who was elected this year as president of the Kentucky affiliate, reiterated on Thursday his objections to any rules establishing controls on Salix administration.

"I think it ought to be left up to the veterinarian," said Harthill, who disputed that Salix interferes with drug testing. "And it wouldn't make an amount of difference anyway. If a guy knows what he's doing, it's going to wash out anyway, no matter how much Lasix you give them." Harthill endorsed the national group's plan, however.

Remi Bellocq, who was appointed executive director of the national HBPA this year, acknowledged that Salix regulations remained a controversial issue despite what he called "unanimous support" for the overall policy from the organization's affiliates.

"We all agree that Lasix is going to continue to be an issue," Bellocq said. "But there's a lot of issues we need to work on. This is just a start."

Bellocq said the report would be distributed over the next several weeks to industry leaders, in the hopes that the racing industry will reach a consensus on the policy at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing in early December.

Marty Maline, the executive director of the Kentucky affiliate of the national HBPA, said Thursday that he expects the recommendations will be heavily scrutinized until December.