08/17/2008 12:00AM

Jockey Club seeks optimal drug-testing plan


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The Jockey Club will pay for the development of a business plan designed to envision the most ideal way for the racing industry to conduct drug testing and research into medications, officials of the organization said on Sunday at the annual Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing.

Funding for the business plan was one of several recommendations made on Sunday by the Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee, which was formed five days after the fatal injury suffered by Eight Belles following her second-place finish in the May 2 Kentucky Derby. The Round Table's two-hour program focused almost exclusively on ways to address the highly public criticisms of the sport following the filly's death, underlining the problems in the public perception of racing.

Other recommendations included the development of strict standards for laboratories that conduct drug testing; the development of a uniform request-for-proposals that would be used when racing commissions evaluate drug-testing laboratories; and the development and maintenance of a facility that would be used to freeze post-race samples. The proposed business plan would incorporate the costs and implementations of the recommendations, Jockey Club officials said.

In addition, the committee recommended that racing commissions require racetracks to participate in the collection of data on racehorse injuries as a condition of licensing. Also, the committee recommended that racetracks and racing commissions fund post-mortem examinations of all racehorses who die on the track and develop standardized procedures for conducting pre-race and post-race veterinary examinations.

In late July, the Jockey Club launched a database tracking racehorse injuries, and the vast majority of racetracks have already agreed to participate in the project. Chris Scherf, the executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, said in an interview at the conference that "about a half-dozen tracks" have not agreed to participate yet, but he said that several of those tracks have not been approached about participating.

The Thoroughbred Safety Committee had already issued recommendations for states and racetracks to adopt rules regulating the administration of anabolic steroids and a ban on toe-grab horseshoes. Many states were in the process of adopting the rules and toe-grab ban, but the committee's endorsement of the measures has provided additional momentum to the efforts, racing officials have said.

Many racing organizations have been focusing on addressing public concerns about the safety of racehorses because of the scrutiny of the sport's practices since the death of Eight Belles. In July, that scrutiny reached a high point with a Congressional hearing in which federal legislators took the industry to task for its medication policies and the frequency of racehorse deaths, but the volume of that criticism has abated since the hearing was held.

Several speakers at the Round Table addressed the criticisms with presentations of data that appeared to contradict many widely held beliefs of critics of the racing industry. Matt Iuliano, the vice president of registration services for the Jockey Club, challenged claims that the racing industry is increasingly breeding more fragile horses by presenting the results of a pedigree research study conducted by the Jockey Club over the past several months. The data appeared to show that no one sire line is responsible for the production of horses with a higher degree of unsoundness, Iuliano said.

In addition, Dr. Larry Bramlage, the co-owner of Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic and a member of the safety committee, presented data challenging the oft-repeated claim that 2-year-old racing contributes to racing unsoundness or catastrophic injuries. The data indicated that horses who race more often as juveniles average more starts over their careers than horses that do not race until their 3-year-old years.

In other presentations, Alan Foreman, the chief executive of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association - a regional group that represents state-level trainer's organizations - said that the racing industry needs to move aggressively to address shortfalls in funding and expertise among the nation's drug-testing laboratories in order to prepare for the emergence of next-generation performance-enhancing drugs. His presentation led into the recommendations issued by the safety committee to study the sport's drug-testing practices in an effort to design a better national drug-testing system.