03/30/2012 12:14PM

Jockey Club, in proposed new rules, reiterates stance against raceday Lasix


By Matt Hegarty
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- An updated set of proposed racing rules released by the Jockey Club on Friday reiterates the organization's opposition to the raceday use of furosemide -- the anti-bleeding medication commonly known as Lasix -- and would revamp the way that racing commissions determine penalties for trainers whose horses test positive for medications.

The Jockey Club is hoping to convince racing commissions to adopt the rules as part of the organization's ongoing effort to press for an overhaul of the regulation of racing. Those efforts have arisen as racing has increasingly been targeted by critics of the safety records of U.S. racetracks at the same time that the sport has suffered declines in popularity under competition from other forms of gambling and the attacks of animal-welfare groups.

Under the rules released Friday, racing commissions would adopt a points system that would determine the penalty a trainer would be assessed for specific medication violations. The system would impose stronger and stronger penalties against a trainer as medication violations stacked up over a rolling three-year period, culminating, in some cases, with lifetime bans.

"The one thing this system is going to do is make everyone follow the same rules," said Matt Iuliano, the executive vice president of the Jockey Club, during an interview at the Jockey Club's offices in Lexington. "Those that don't are going to find themselves on the sidelines, sometimes permanently."

The rules have been in development at the Jockey Club since last April, according to Jamie Haydon, the Jockey Club's manager of industry initiatives. A first set of the rules was released during the Jockey Club's Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing last August, and since then, racing has increasingly come under scrutiny, including an article published last Sunday in the New York Times examining deaths and injuries at U.S. racetracks.

The updated rules would seek to codify existing guidelines on the use of commonly administered medications, including painkillers and corticosteroids. Under the rules, the use of any painkiller would be prohibited within 48 hours of a race, while corticosteroids would be prohibited within seven days of a race. In addition, any positive for a painkiller would result in the disqualification of a horse from a race and the loss of purse money.

Existing rules and regulatory thresholds for many painkillers prohibit the use of the drugs within 24 hours of a race. Penalties for positives of those drugs generally do not result in a disqualification or the loss of purse money, but instead a small fine.
"We felt that a positive for any pain suppressor should warrant taking away the purse," Haydon said.

Jockey Club officials explained on Friday that the rules would seek to change a "culture" on the backstretch that they said encouraged trainers to turn to medications in order to address minor ailments and niggling aches and pains. The New York Times article claimed that a "culture of drugs and lax regulation" in racing was a major contributor to racehorse injuries.

The rules provide for the establishment of regulatory thresholds or withdrawal times for 26 commonly used drugs. The thresholds allow trace amounts of a drug to appear in a horse's postrace blood or urine samples without a penalty being assessed, in an acknowledgement that sensitive tests can detect a minute amount of a drug in a horse's system that is not considered to be pharmacologically meaningful.

Haydon said the Jockey Club rules would ease the burden on trainers and racing commissioners when dealing with potential positives for medications by codifying the penalties and guidelines for the most commonly used drugs. Currently, many racing commissioners rely on guidelines developed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella group for U.S. racing jurisdictions, and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an advisory group funded by a broad cross-section of organizations in the racing industry, including horsemen's groups. The matrix used by the ARCI consists of hundreds of drugs in six categories.

"This would reduce that to two categories," Haydon said. "It's prohibited or it's controlled. It's much easier to understand this way."

The rules would ban the raceday use of furosemide, the anti-bleeding medication that is legal to administer on raceday in every North American racing jurisdiction but illegal on race day in nearly every other racing jurisdiction. Along with other major racing organizations, including the Breeders' Cup and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the Jockey Club has said it supported a ban on the raceday use of the drug for a year, but horsemen have aggressively resisted the effort, citing the drug's efficacy in treating a common exercise-induced malady that is suffered by horses worldwide.

Last year, TOBA's Graded Stakes Committee passed a rule requiring bans on the raceday use of furosemide in 2-year-old stakes races run in 2012 for the races to be eligible for grades. The committee, however, rescinded the rule earlier this year after state racing commissions balked at changing their rules, largely because of resistance from horsemen. The Breeders' Cup plans to enforce a ban on raceday furosemide in the five 2-year-olds races in its 14-race event this year, and that policy is set to be expanded to all of the event's races in 2013.

Iuliano reiterated that the Jockey Club was urging the ban on raceday furosemide because the organization believes that "horses should compete only when free from the influence of medication."

He acknowledged that horsemen are expected to resist the ongoing call to ban raceday use of furosemide, but he also said the Jockey Club supported a gradual phase-out of the drug, in the hopes that a phase-out would make it more palatable to horsemen.

"Let's take a learned, measured response to it," Iuliano said. "We're fully supportive of that."

:: Read the proposed new rules here