09/07/2017 2:16PM

Pennsylvania to ban horses temporarily following drug positives

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The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission has adopted a rule that will make horses who have tested positive for illegal substances ineligible to race for as long as 90 days after the positive test has been confirmed.

The rule was approved by the commission during an Aug. 31 meeting. Tom Chuckas, the executive director of the racing commission, said on Thursday that the rule likely will take effect in October, 30 days after the rule is first officially published, which could come as soon as next week.

The concept of suspending a horse after a positive test has been discussed in many jurisdictions in the racing industry, but Pennsylvania is the first state to pass a rule mandating that a horse be ruled ineligible for any violation of the state’s medication rules. Under the rule, any horse who tests positive for a Class 1 or Class 2 prohibited substance will be suspended 90 days, and any horse who tests positive for a Class 3 substance or tests for an illegal concentration of total carbon dioxide will be suspended for 30 days.

“The commission feels this deals with accountability,” said Chuckas. “The owners that employ certain trainers may want to take a closer look at who they use if their horses are being ruled ineligible.”

Pennsylvania has a poor reputation among many horseplayers because of several high-profile cases in the state involving drug abuse, including a long-running investigation by federal authorities centering on Penn National that has resulted in guilty pleas from a dozen trainers and veterinarians. In addition, a number of leading trainers in the state have rung up multiple violations for overages of therapeutic medications, which are generally included in the Class 3 category.

Todd Mostoller, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said horsemen supported the rule in general, although he acknowledged that the organization was not aware that the regulation had progressed so fully through the rulemaking process until the Aug. 31 meeting.

But Mostoller also cautioned that the rule could ensnare some horses who test positive for trace levels of some Class 1 or Class 2 drugs that horsemen believe are common environmental contaminants because of human use, such as methamphetamine.

“We really do believe that we need to have a common-sense approach to this because we are dealing with drugs right now that can be detected at very low levels that were not necessarily administered to horses,” Mostoller said.

Chuckas said the period of ineligibility for the horse will begin when the initial test is confirmed in a split sample, or in the case of a trainer declining the right to a split-sample test, when the initial test result was communicated to the trainer. Chuckas also said the ineligibility period will remain in force regardless of whether a trainer receives a stay of any penalty that is handed down for the trainer’s liability in the case of a positive.

“This goes down to the health and safety of the horse and maintaining integrity,” Chuckas said.