04/20/2017 1:56PM

Panel endorses closing loopholes for horses on vets' lists


CHARLESTON, S.C. – A committee of national regulators that sets recommended rules for racing commissions on Thursday approved regulations designed to ensure that a horse placed on a vet’s list in one jurisdiction retains the designation when shipping to another jurisdiction, while passing on a proposal to more strictly regulate jockeys’ use of the whip.

The Model Rules Committee of the Association of Racing Commissioners International approved the regulations on a voice vote with no dissension at a meeting held on the final day of the organization’s annual conference on equine welfare and racing integrity. The regulations had been under development for the past 18 months, according to officials, in order to address weaknesses in the current rules that had led to some horses being able to race after shipping out of a state where regulatory veterinarians had placed the horse on a vet’s list.

Although the approval by the committee does not put the rules in place in individual racing states, an endorsement by the committee typically sends a strong signal to racing commissions to formally adopt the recommended regulations.

While the broad intention of the new vet’s list regulations did not come under debate, the addition of several proposals affecting horses who have not raced in at least a year or have not run in a single race before reaching age 4 generated some debate as the committee deliberated.

Representatives of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association objected to several of the provisions related to the proposals, but those objections – which would have affected a small number of horses – were largely swept aside as committee members sided with the endorsement of its regulatory veterinarians’ committee.

“Let’s make some progress,” said Mark Lamberth, a member of the Arkansas Racing Commission. “We can tweak it if we need to. Let’s move forward. Let’s do something positive.”

Vets’ lists are maintained by racing regulators in order to flag horses who have demonstrated physical ailments or have failed to maintain adequate racing or workout records. In order to be removed from a vet’s list, a horse typically has to pass an inspection by a regulatory veterinarian. A horse placed on the vet’s list is unable to race.

The Jockey Club participated in designing the new regulations, and Cathy O’Meara, the coordinator of industry initiatives for the organization, provided some of the testimony to the committee in support of the rules. O’Meara has said that The Jockey Club’s racing-office software would be updated to ensure that the vet’s list designation would follow a horse from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

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The regulations pertaining to horses who have not raced in more than a year or started prior to turning 4 will require the horses to perform a workout, pass a physical inspection, and test negative in post-work samples under drug-testing rules that apply to horses performing in a race. The requirement for a post-work drug test was added to keep horsemen from using powerful doses of anti-inflammatories or other medications to mask underlying physical problems during the workout.

Supporters of those provisions said that data collected through the national Equine Injury Database have indicated that horses with long layoffs or long delays in starting their racing careers are at high risk for injury, justifying the additional measures.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Dr. Lynn Hovda, the equine medical director of the Minnesota Racing Commission and a member of the RCI’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

In regards to the whip-usage rule, the committee approved a proposal to create an ad-hoc subcommittee of its Rider and Driver Safety Committee to study any changes to the existing model rule, which calls for stewards to use discretion in determining whether a jockey used a whip “excessively.” Under that rule, stewards can fine or suspend a jockey.

Several groups have been pushing the RCI and individual racing jurisdictions to copy rules promulgated by the California Horse Racing Board several years ago that require fines when jockeys use the whip more than three times in a row without giving a horse two strides “to respond.”

The riding community is overwhelmingly opposed to the spread of the rules, and representatives of the Jockeys’ Guild testified at the meeting in favor of its own proposal that would largely leave penalties to the discretion of stewards.

Many members of the committee indicated that they also favored such an approach, in addition to calling for individual commissions to speak with state stewards about the necessity of applying the rule more frequently in the face of criticism from animal-welfare advocates.