04/24/2013 7:12PM

RCI proposes harsh penalties for repeat drug offenders

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A new penalty schedule for medication violations that would include harsh sanctions for multiple violations of prohibited drugs was introduced to regulators over the past several days at the Association of Racing Commissioners International convention in New Orleans, according to officials.

The recommended penalty schedule, which has been devised in several iterations by multiple groups over the past two years, was presented to the RCI’s Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee on Tuesday and the RCI’s Model Rules Committee on Wednesday by Alan Foreman, the chairman of the National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The proposal is now expected to be distributed to stakeholders throughout the racing industry in an effort to get feedback in advance of a mid-year effort to adopt a model rule based on the new policy.

Supporters of the new penalty schedule consider the adoption of stricter sanctions for repeat offenders the final stage of a multi-year effort to change the regulation of medication in U.S. Thoroughbred racing. If all goes as supporters plan, the penalty schedule will be affixed to a set of model rules governing allowable therapeutic medications that eight states have already pledged to adopt by Jan. 1, 2014. More states are expected to join the effort to adopt the model rules as the year progresses.

Many of racing’s critics contend that racing regulations do a poor job of doling out punishment to the sport’s serial offenders, contributing to carelessness and experimentation with drugs. According to a analysis conducted by the Jockey Club using six years of data on medication violations, a small minority of trainers account for the vast majority of U.S. medication violations, but nearly all of those violations are overages of commonly used therapeutic medications such as phenylbutazone, the painkiller; furosemide, the anti-bleeding medication; and various corticosteroids.

The Jockey Club has been an early supporter of a points-based system, and it began distributing its own version of a similar policy last year.

Under the new penalty schedule presented to the RCI committees on Tuesday and Wednesday, horsemen would rack up points for violations of medication rules, with the amount of points linked to the severity of the violation, in much the same way that points are applied to driver’s licenses for various infractions. Once a trainer reaches a certain level of points, then the regulations would require additional penalties, over and above the penalty assigned for the specific violation.

Violations for most of the most commonly used therapeutic medications would count for one point, while others in the therapeutic category would count for 2 points. Violations for prohibited substances – those that are not on a special list of 24 “controlled medications” – would count for anywhere from one point to six points, with the amount determined by a classification system containing a laundry list of both human and animal medications, based on their ability to influence a horse’s performance.

A trainer who accumulates as little as 3 points will be handed an additional suspension of 30 days – a trainer could hit that level with three overages of furosemide, or one overage of clenbuterol with one overage of phenylbutazone. At six points, a trainer would face an additional 60 days; at nine points, 120 days; and at 11 points or anything over, a 360-day suspension.

Also under the proposed, points can be expunged from a trainer’s record under a timeline based on the category of the drug. For violations for those drugs in the lowest category, the points will be expunged after one year; the next category up, two years; and the next category after that, three years. Points for a violation of a drug in the so-called A category – drugs that have a high potential to affect racing performance and which have no known therapeutic value – will never be expunged from a trainer’s record.