08/15/2014 2:21PM

Latest Jockey Club report a template for USADA


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – As The Jockey Club attempts to build support for the appointment of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to oversee the sport’s drug-testing programs, it will use the results of a recent study the organization commissioned to make the point that racing’s state-by-state approach to drug testing falls short in many ways.

The report, commissioned by The Jockey Club approximately seven weeks before the organization’s Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing, was prepared by McKinsey & Co., a frequent client of The Jockey Club. Portions of the report were presented at the Round Table to argue that current drug-testing practices, costs, and proficiencies in the United States vary widely from state to state and do not rise to the standards of some foreign racing jurisdictions.

The preparation of the report and its focus underlines the importance The Jockey Club is assigning to its campaign for USADA, a private company that conducts drug-testing of Olympic athletes. Jockey Club officials believe USADA, if mandated by Congress to administer the sport’s drug-testing programs, would dramatically improve the sport’s capabilities to catch cheaters – even though USADA has no experience in horse racing or other animal sports – by creating a top-down approach to replace the current state-based system, which right now is in a state of transition as industry-led reform efforts proceed at varying paces.

Matt Iuliano, The Jockey Club’s executive director, said in written responses to e-mailed questions that the current record of progress in drug-testing reform “clearly shows [uniformity] is improbable” using the state-by-state and lab-by-lab approach.

“From our tally, we conclude that state regulators have been reluctant to adopt the National Uniform Medication Program, in whole or in part,” Iuliano said. “Specifically, as McKinsey noted, there is still great variation in testing. All testing is not equal. It’s not even close.”

Though the report did not explicitly endorse USADA, it called for racing as a whole to collect far more samples in out-of-competition environments, conduct more research into the development of tests to detect cutting-edge drugs, and require laboratories to adhere to uniform standards involving everything from testing equipment to the types and numbers of drugs the labs seek to detect. Those are the same points that Travis Tygart, the chief executive of USADA, has played up in presentations to the racing industry, including one Tuesday in Saratoga Springs to a group of owners and breeders who support federal-oversight legislation and oppose the race-day use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, or Lasix.

“We believe USADA would bring instant credibility to the process,” Iuliano said. “In addition to its position as a central, consolidated rule-making and enforcement authority, we believe implementation would be infinitely more uniform and would occur at a much greater pace than we see today.”

To racing officials involved in an ongoing effort to reform the industry’s drug-testing practices, including the process to require all labs performing drug-testing work to be accredited, the recommendations of the report were nothing new, however. Those officials stressed that the organization leading the current reform effort, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, has identified the areas in which racing’s drug-testing practices need to improve, and that the latest McKinsey report landed on the same topics.

Dr. Dionne Benson, the executive director of the RMTC, said that many of the recommendations in the report in regard to uniform testing would be addressed in a new model request-for-proposals being developed by an RMTC subcommittee. Ideally, with industry buy-in, the RFP will be used by state racing commissions when they bid out drug-testing services. The RFP would also include a requirement that the labs submit to proficiency tests using double-blind samples, a specific point of criticism in the McKinsey report. Benson said the discussion on double-blind samples has been taking place for months.

Benson stressed that the process to bring standardization and uniformity to the industry’s labs is highly complex, and because of the breadth of work involved, it’s inherently slow-moving.

“We already knew about these issues that the report brought up,” Benson said. “We believe that we will get there eventually, but these things take time.”

Alan Foreman, the vice chairman of the RMTC who has played an instrumental role in the adoption of uniform medication rules throughout the Mid-Atlantic, said The Jockey Club has failed to explain why the appointment of USADA would result in a better system than the one envisioned by the organizations involved in the reform effort, citing USADA’s inexperience. Like many other officials in racing, Foreman is wary of involving the federal government in racing, which all believe is necessary to bring USADA on board.

“I don’t know that [USADA has] demonstrated that what they do is better, or that it will be better than what we are currently doing,” Foreman said. “And going to the federal government is not going to get us to uniformity any faster.”

The McKinsey report’s call to test more samples obtained in out-of-competition settings – a phrase that refers to horses who are not imminently scheduled to race, including those on backstretches, farms, and private training centers – was a recommendation last year of The Jockey Club. McKinsey said that only 1 percent of the samples tested in U.S. racing are pulled in out-of-competition settings – a number disputed by Foreman – and that the percentage needs to rise to 10 percent for the program to effectively respond to the trend toward longer-acting, sophisticated drugs.

But that expansion would require far more funding than the industry currently spends for drug testing, raising questions as to whether the industry would need to abandon its approach of testing participants in every single race to shift funds toward the expanded out-of-competition program, including the development of a database tracking the location of every Thoroughbred in the United States. Most critical to that would be whether racing fans would trust a system that does not subject every performance to post-race scrutiny. (Testing in human sports relies on this model.)

The Jockey Club has said that it would support a 2 percent levy on purses to raise another $20 million in funds for drug testing and research, to add to the current estimated budget of $23 million. The levy would likely face pushback from some horsemen’s organizations, which have been historically resistant to any effort to lower purses, even though average purses per runner and race are at all-time highs, according to DRF statistics.

The Jockey Club’s chairman, Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, said in his closing remarks at the Round Table that the money would be well spent.

“As we leave here today, we shouldn’t be asking ourselves if we can afford to build such a program,” Phipps said. “We should be asking ourselves if we cannot afford to do it.”