08/12/2012 2:13PM

Round Table: United States Anti-Doping Agency chief suggests unified, top-down medication enforcement


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The racing industry’s effort to police and enforce its medication rules could benefit by the adoption of a top-down structure employed by the countries that participate in the Olympic Games, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency said Sunday at the Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the USADA since 2007, said during his keynote presentation that Olympic countries were forced to adopt the top-down model in the late 1990s after the Olympics were rocked by doping scandals that sapped the public’s confidence and interest in them. Under the model, countries whose athletes participate in the games must adhere to a set of rules and standards devised and approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which then monitors the individual testing and enforcement activities of its member countries.

That structure differs in at least one very significant aspect from racing’s regulatory framework, a structure that has come under intense fire from critics who contend that cheaters in racing consistently evade tough sanctions. All 38 racing jurisdictions in the U.S. have their own sets of rules and the powers to enforce them, and no overarching body has any enforcement power other than that of recommendation.

Tygart said that prior to the late 1990s, the Olympics were suffering from “bad rules, a lack of uniformity, and confusion” by sports fans over the legitimacy of drug-testing efforts. Then came the various doping scandals, which “forced reform to be done” through the creation of WADA and the overhaul of individual countries’ regulatory structure.

“You also had powerful entities who were in denial who wanted to point to every different problem for the reason why fans were walking away,” Tygart said.

The presentation by Tygart comes at a time when the Jockey Club is pushing for the adoption by all 38 racing states of a set of rules devised by the organization and first released at last year’s Round Table. The Jockey Club and supporters of the rules have contended that the regulations would provide for harsher treatment of serial violators of racing rules while also providing a national framework for the regulation of a suite of 25 therapeutic medications that would be allowed to be present in post-race samples at level that are considered to be pharmacologically insignificant.

But those rules have encountered resistance from horsemen’s groups because they do not allow for the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, which is currently legal to administer on raceday in every jurisdiction in North America. The push by the Jockey Club and many powerful owners and breeders on its board has driven a wedge between the organization and the horsemen’s groups, who contend that furosemide is effective in mitigating bleeding in the lungs and should be allowed to be used on race day.

Stuart Janney, the vice chairman of the Jockey Club, said during the Round Table that the Jockey Club remains committed to banning the use of medication on race day, but after the conference, the Jockey Club distributed a “recommended best practices” amendment to the rules that would govern the raceday administration of furosemide, which is commonly referred to by its trade name or former trade name, Salix or Lasix. Those best practices would require horses to be on racetrack grounds more than four hours before post time of the first race or be subject to a scratch. The amendment also would limit the people - either an employee of the racetrack or an employee of the racing commission - who can administer the drug, not less than four hours before post time of a horse's scheduled race.

Jockey Club officials said that they devised the amendment as an acknowledgment that a national ban on the raceday use of the drug would be time-consuming. In the meantime, Jockey Club officials said, they preferred to have the raceday use of the drug regulated on a consistent basis from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, within scientific guidelines that have been devised over the past several decades to restrict dosages and set a time limit on the administration of the drug so that its diuretic effect does not compromise the results of post-race tests.

Also at Sunday’s Round Table, the Jockey Club released the results of an analysis of racing violations over a six-year period from 2005 to 2011, an exercise that was intended to drum up support for its recommended penalty guidelines, which would subject trainers and other licensees to increasingly punitive sanctions as the number of violations piled up. The analysis determined that a small minority of the 12,801 trainers licensed during the six-year period accounted for the vast majority of violations.

The results of the analysis were displayed through a series of slides introduced by Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, unaccompanied by any narration.  The unadorned presentation concluded with the statement that “98.5 percent or approximately 12,600 trainers without a medication violation were, in essence, allowing 1.5 percent of the population to shape 100 percent of the public perception of the sport,” a sentiment that drew a smattering of appreciative nods throughout the crowd.

“Is anyone satisfied with this scenario?” Phipps said after the last slide was displayed. “Should we be satisfied with medication rules that arguably protect about 1 percent of the trainer population, the 1 percent that repeatedly demonstrates utter disregard of the rules?”

Matt Iuliano, the Jockey Club’s executive vice president, said during his own presentation at the Round Table that two organizations, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the American Quarter Horse Association, have both endorsed the Jockey Club rules and had committed to pushing for their adoption at the state level. TOBA has also been in agreement with the Jockey Club on its push to ban raceday furosemide, and the organizations’ boards share a large number of members.

The effort to get the rules adopted by states is complicated by the fact that state racing commissions are unaccustomed to looking to the Jockey Club for guidance. In addition, there are myriad numbers of ways in which racing regulations are adopted at the state level, requiring the Jockey Club and supporters of the rules to devise individual strategies for each racing state. For instance, in some states, racing commissions can adopt new regulations on their own, while in others, the regulations must be codified and approved by legislators.

The Jockey Club has recently started to directly press for the adoption of its rules in some major racing states, including New York, where the organization is based. In the past week, for example, the Jockey Club retained a lobbyist in New York to work with state legislators on a bill that would put its rules into law, but that effort is expected to face some opposition from the state’s horsemen’s group if the regulations do not allow the raceday use of furosemide.

If all the various factions and groups in racing can agree on one thing, it’s that racing is suffering from public perception problems, in part because critics have intensely fanned the flames of the sport’s shortcomings over the past several years. Janney acknowledged those problems, and he said the solution was for racing to attack its problems with the same vigor that some racing participants attack the sport’s detractors.

"I don’t think the solution is defensiveness or attacking the critics," Janney said. "We have to look at the big picture and what we have to do is hard. We have to agree on a goal of ensuring that our sport is as safe as possible and that our athletes are properly cared for. We must also reassure public observers and our fans that we compare favorably to other sports, and the international racing community."