04/02/2004 12:00AM

Proposed new drug rules would set national policy

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Two regulatory groups are expected to vote Saturday on a set of recommended rules for medication in horse racing that would restrict raceday drugs to the diuretic furosemide - known as Lasix - and prohibit the use of any anti-inflammatory drug within 24 hours of a race.

The purpose of the rules, which have been developed over 2 1/2 years by a group set up by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, is to unite all racing jurisdictions under one set of regulations. Current regulations represent a hodgepodge of rules from one racing state to the next, confounding owners and trainers who increasingly ship across state borders to race.

The two regulatory groups, meeting in New Orleans, are the Association of Racing Commissioners International and the North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association. If the groups approve the policy, then regulators of each racing commission will be asked to adopt the rules over the course of the next year.

The NTRA released an executive summary of the rules one day before two major regulatory associations were scheduled to vote on them at a joint conference in New Orleans on Saturday. In the release, D. G. Van Clief, the chairman of the NTRA's task force and the president of Breeders' Cup, said that "uniform rules will clearly level the playing field for horsemen and bettors while enhancing the safety of our athletes and the integrity of our sport."

The document states that no drug should be used on race day - with the exception of furosemide - unless the drug "has been proven by a preponderance of scientific evidence to be of therapeutic benefit to the horse; unlikely to affect performance; of no danger to riders; unlikely to interfere with the detection of other substances, and efficacious at reducing exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage," or bleeding in the lungs.

"It really took us a while to nail down that philosophy," said Dr. Scot Waterman on Friday. Waterman is the executive director of the NTRA's task force on drug testing and medication, and has led the effort to draft the model rules. "I think the biggest step forward is giving science a much bigger influence over policy, and by that I mean the best available science."

The document was drafted with the assistance of 25 racing organizations and six advisers, representing racetracks, trainers' organizations, breeding associations, chemists, and other industry groups. Supporters of the effort have called the development of the rules the most comprehensive effort so far in racing to bring all interested parties to the table.

The development of the document has been especially controversial in Kentucky, which has a more liberal set of medication rules than any other racing jurisdiction. The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has criticized any potential rollback to the state's rules. Many Kentucky racetracks, however, and a separate state organization that principally represents owners and breeders, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, support more conservative rules.

"Our position has not changed," said Marty Maline, the executive director of the KHBPA. "If there is research that shows there is something wrong with Kentucky's policy, we're willing to look at that research. We'll change when the research tells us to, not because someone else has decided our policy doesn't fit with what they are trying to do."

The model rules themselves would allow the raceday use only of furosemide, a diuretic that has been used in horse racing for decades to treat bleeding, a common side effect of strenuous exercise in Thoroughbreds.

The rules would also eliminate the need for horsemen to justify the use of furosemide to state or track veterinarians. Most states require a horse to be certified for furosemide after having been shown to have bled during exercise. The new rules would put usage at the discretion of the trainer.

The document states that use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be restricted to one of three drugs administered more than 24 hours before a race: phenylbutazone, flunixin, and ketoprofen. Phenylbutazone is commonly referred to as Bute, while flunixin is known on backstretches by its trade name, Banamine.

The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are akin to aspirin and are used to treat inflammation, soreness, and mild fevers. Several states allow the use of them on raceday, and Kentucky also allows two such drugs to be used in combination. The document says that findings of more than one of the approved drugs should be treated as a violation.

The document also addresses penalties for drug positives, recommending that fines and suspensions be increased for drugs "that have no reason to be found at any concentration in a test sample on raceday," and that owners, trainers, and veterinarians share some responsibility for positive tests. The group said, however, that the specific language regarding penalties is still being drafted.