06/29/2012 2:59PM

Jockey Club's Gagliano calls for stiffer penalties on drug violations

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James Gagliano, the president and chief operating officer of the Jockey Club, said in an open letter Friday that recent positives for the powerful painkiller dermorphin have demonstrated the industry’s need to adopt stricter enforcement and harsher penalties for drug violations.

Alluding to the minimum one-year suspension that is being contemplated by regulators in Louisiana to punish trainers who have had horses test positive for dermorphin, Gagliano said that the industry should adopt the Jockey Club developed guidelines to deter the use of strong performance-enhancing drugs. The Jockey Club guidelines, released late in March, would apply a points system to violations and could lead to dramatically higher penalties for trainers with positives for the most potent types of medications.

“If those rules were in effect in Louisiana, or any of the other states in which the same drug has been found recently, any trainer found to have treated a horse with dermorphin would have received, at a minimum, 150 points on his record, a 10-year-suspension, and a $37,000 fine,” Gagliano wrote in the letter, which was distributed by the Jockey Club.

Under the Jockey Club’s revised guidelines, a trainer would be assessed 150 points for a positive for any “non-controlled therapeutic medication,” a category that would include dermorphin. Those guidelines state that the accumulation of 150 points within a three-year period “shall result in a minimum one-year suspension absent mitigating circumstances,” though the guideline also states that “the presence of aggravating factors could be used to impose a maximum of [a] 10-year suspension.” The current rule in use in Louisiana and most other states provides for a maximum three-year suspension for dermorphin.

The letter by Gagliano is the Jockey Club’s latest effort to push for tougher medication policies. In addition to the development of revised penalty guidelines, the organization has pushed states to adopt restrictions on the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide and toughen penalties for trainers with multiple positives. It has also been leading several efforts to better identify the factors that place horses at risk while racing and training.

The recent positives for dermorphin come at a time when horse racing has been targeted by critics of the sport’s safety record and the industry’s state-by-state regulatory structure.

“We cannot address sustainability issues for our sport until image, integrity, and animal welfare issues, triggered most of all by lax and inconsistent drug policies, are managed and contained,” Gagliano wrote. “Otherwise, we suffer death by a thousand cuts.”

Another 15 positives for dermorphin are believed to have been discovered in Oklahoma, but regulatory officials there have not yet confirmed the positives. At least one positive has also been called in New Mexico.