Updated on 03/05/2013 4:01PM

RCI closes loophole on its medication standards


Racing regulators will seek to apply a stricter standard to rules restricting when therapeutic medications can be administered to horses as part of a national effort to pass uniform rules in all 38 U.S. racing states, the regulators said late on Monday.

The new standard would replace recommendations collectively known as "withdrawal times," which are guidelines on how far out from a race a therapeutic medication can be administered without a horse testing positive for a prohibited level of the drug. With the exception of New York, states currently treat withdrawal times as recommendations, and recommendations only, while the new standard, called "Restricted Administration Times," would be enforced as a line in the sand that could not be crossed.

Supporters said that the adoption of Restricted Administration Times would close a loophole that encourages trainers to experiment with the medications either close to the withdrawal time or within the recommended window at a lower-than-usual dose. In addition, by making the standard legally enforceable, regulators would be able to punish licensees if they were able to prove conclusively that a trainer or veterinarian administered the medication within the restricted time by means other than a positive post-race test, such as a review of veterinary records or eyewitness testimony.

"It we can find out through a variety of investigative techniques [that the restricted administration time was violated] then we can still issue a penalty," said Ed Martin, the president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which is coordinating the effort to develop the model rules.

Last year, New York charged a harness trainer, Lou Pena, with 1,719 violations of its racing rules based on a review of the trainer’s veterinary records over a 28-month period. None of Pena’s horses ever tested positive, but regulators said the records proved that he had broken the state’s rules on therapeutic medications by administering the drugs within the withdrawal time.

Officials representing horsemen have raised concerns about the case, and they are expected to raise similar issues if the organizations press forward with the adoption of the Restricted Administration Times standard.

Momentum has been building throughout the past six months for widespread adoption of the rules. Recently, a handful of states in the mid-Atlantic committed to an effort to push for adoption of the rules later this year.

The proposed set of uniform rules currently identifies 24 drugs that will be allowed to be administered therapeutically to horses, with all other drugs banned at any level of detection. Seventeen of the drugs will be considered "normal and appropriate for equine care" and will be governed by restricted administration times, with guidelines on the allowed dose and route of administration. The other seven – drugs like powerful sedatives and tranquilizers typically administered to treat an injury – will be put on a "special instance" list that would require disclosure and a higher level of pre-race scrutiny.