02/01/2008 12:00AM

Panel sets steroid timeline

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Racing jurisdictions in the United States should hold off on implementing rules regulating the administration of anabolic steroids until Jan. 1, 2009, officials for the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium said on Thursday.

The recommendation by the consortium - an industry-funded group that formulates policies for U.S. racing states - is an acknowledgment that owners and trainers would have difficulty complying with steroid regulations if states implemented the rules at different times. In addition, the consortium said that research it is funding into determining withdrawal times for anabolic steroids will not be done until August, beyond the April 1 date that some states had targeted for the new rules.

"We realized that there are testing and logistical issues individual state racing commissions must work through before adopting this anabolic steroid model rule and implementing the penalty phase," said Chris Scherf, a co-vice chairman of the consortium.

The panel first recommended the regulation of anabolic steroids late in 2006. A rule that would allow for the therapeutic use of four commonly used anabolic steroids but prohibit all others was approved in early 2007, and since then, many states have begun the process to implement the rule. The dates when the rules would go into effect are varied, however.

The United States is the only major racing jurisdiction in the world that does not have an outright ban on anabolic steroids. With regular use, the drugs can be used to build muscle mass. U.S. veterinarians and trainers have said that the drugs have therapeutic uses to help horses recover from exercise and restore appetite, although other legal drugs - or rest - can also achieve the same effect.

So far, jurisdictions have not settled on threshold levels for the presence of the four permitted anabolic steroids in postrace samples. Threshold levels are concentration limits in blood or urine samples under which the drugs are not considered to have had a meaningful impact on racing performance. A sample that tests positive for a drug but under the threshold level is not considered a violation of racing rules.

The medication consortium said that it is currently funding research on threshold levels through the University of Florida Pharmacokinetics Laboratory. The threshold levels will be applied to urine and blood plasma. The results of the research will not be available until August, the panel said.

Two national horsemen's groups - the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the National Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association - had earlier this year called for the Jan. 1, 2009, adoption date, fearing that a patchwork of rules in different states would lead to a number of positives in horses who ship from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Anabolic steroids are long-acting and can be detected in sensitive tests months after administration.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, an industry marketing group that also conducts federal lobbying efforts on behalf of the racing industry, said that racing, like all other sports, is under the eye of legislators for steroid use, and it urged the racing industry to adopt the regulations as soon as possible.

"Given the scrutiny of anabolic steroids by the media and Congress, and the consequential negative perception of these drugs by the public, the horse racing industry must take initiative on its own volition to properly and uniformly regulate the use of anabolic steroids in racehorses this year," said Alex Waldrop, the president of the NTRA.