09/17/2008 12:00AM

Maryland bans steroids


The Maryland Racing Commission has approved new restrictions on anabolic steroids for Thoroughbreds that are expected to be in place by Jan. 1, making it likely that the drugs will be banned in all three states that play host to the Triple Crown races.

The decision in Maryland, which had been expected for weeks, was made on Tuesday and followed a similar move last month by the Kentucky Racing Commission. New York, the home of the Triple Crown's third leg, the Belmont Stakes, is in the process of approving stricter rules on steroid use.

The approval in Maryland, site of the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, brings the number of states that have passed regulations regarding anabolic steroids to 14. Several national racing organizations have been aggressively lobbying racing commissions to adopt anabolic-steroid regulations because of heightened scrutiny on the use of the drugs in Thoroughbred racing, which had been unregulated.

"I think the general consensus in the industry is that these drugs shouldn't be used the way they've been used," said Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission.

The new policy would add four anabolic steroids - boldenone, nandrolone, stanozolol, and testosterone - to the state's list of barred substances. An administrative panel composed of state delegates and senators must approve the measure before it can go into effect, Hopkins said. He said the racing commission approved the restrictions on an emergency basis so the review process could be expedited.

"I'm very proud that Maryland has joined the ban," said veteran trainer J. William Boniface. "It's better for the sport, the sport's image and, more importantly, for the horse."

The restrictions would bar horses from having steroids in their blood above certain levels. Hopkins said veterinarians agree that the substances are harmless below those levels.

The commission based its standards on recommendations by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a national organization of horsemen, racing officials, and veterinarians that is pushing for measures to improve the integrity of racing.

The Maryland racing commission tests the first- and second-place finishers in every race. The policy approved Tuesday does not include penalties for trainers caught administering steroids. Hopkins said horsemen and racing officials will decide on those standards by Jan. 1.

Hopkins said he does not expect the new regulations to have a major effect on most trainers. Those who work in neighboring Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia are used to them, he said, because of steroid regulations that went into effect earlier this year.

California, the site of this year's Breeders' Cup event, is also already enforcing steroid regulations. This will be the first year that the Breeders' Cup will be run under a ban on the drugs.