01/25/2008 12:00AM

Ontario rules to include horse ban

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Ontario Racing Commission has approved a number of sweeping changes to rules encompassing owner and trainer responsibilities, medication and treatment regulations, and safety equipment for participants in the province's Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries.

The rules, announced by the racing commission in a press release on Wednesday, include a dramatic initiative that will make any horse who tests positive for a banned drug in classes 1, 2, and 3 - those deemed the most serious offenses - ineligible to race for 90 days.

The commission implemented the rule, which will be the strictest of its kind in North America, with the intention of establishing "owner responsibility." Currently, an owner is allowed to transfer a horse to a new trainer if his trainer is suspended for a positive test.

The racing commission also is amending the rules on trainer responsibility, which it believes now seem to be divided between "absolute liability" and "strict liability." The change reinforces the "absolute liability" concept, under which a trainer is held liable to at least some degree for any medication or treatment violations. Current rules allow for trainers to avoid penalties if they are able to demonstrate that they took all reasonable care and were not directly responsible for a positive drug test.

The trainer responsibility rule also would apply to the racing commission's "out of competition" program, which allows for blood samples to be frozen for future testing. One aim of the revised rule is to combat the use of illegal drugs for which current tests are limited or not available.

The "out of competition" program also involves testing horses on private property, a process that now will be conducted only by the commission, not by any third party such as racetrack security.

There also is a new rule regarding shock-wave therapy, which involves treating injuries with focused pressure waves directed to a specific location. The therapy now will not be permitted within 96 hours of a race and must be conducted by the racing commission or a licensed veterinarian. The commission expressed belief that the short-term numbing effect of the therapy could act as a painkiller if used closer to a race.

All of these rules take effect Jan. 31.

The commission also is phasing in the establishment of a "passport" for any horse competing in Ontario. The first step, effective April 1, will require that vaccination records be made available to any new owner of a horse within 72 hours of the horse's purchase. The rule is intended to curb the overmedication of horses because of a lack of information and to assist in policing the appropriate treatment and proper administration of medications.

Under another new rule, only veterinarians licensed by the racing commission will be authorized to treat racehorses, with the exception of emergencies and underserviced areas, effective June 1. The commission believes the move could help trainers avoid positive tests and will be beneficial to the health and welfare of racehorses.

A rule requiring the use of safety reins for all racehorses will be phased in next year. The trainer will be responsible for ensuring that all horses use the safety reins - which provide a secondary attachment to the bit - in racing by Jan. 1 and in training by July 1.