Updated on 09/15/2011 1:34PM

Uniform drug rules endorsed

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John Eastwood
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Arizona, site of the 28th Annual Symposium on Racing.

TUCSON, Ariz. - A broad cross-section of racing officials reached an agreement late Tuesday to push for nationally uniform medication and drug-testing rules, but the agreement avoided specifics, which could prove troublesome down the road.

The agreement is a landmark, participants in the process said, binding the entire racing industry to the effort to create and implement uniform rules for the first time. Participants in the meeting said that the group will meet again within the next two months to begin the difficult process of ironing out the details on the most controversial issues in the debate, such as the use of raceday medications and threshold levels.

"We haven't gotten to the details yet, so we don't really know what the end result will be," said Remi Bellocq, the executive director of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and a participant in the meeting. "But this is the starting point, and it's a hell of a start. From here on in, we have at least the rules of engagement on how we are going to discuss this."

The Tuesday meeting was organized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, a trade group that represents both racetrack and clinical veterinarians. The AAEP invited 31 individuals from a number of racing associations to the meeting as part of the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing, which officially started Wednesday morning. Thirty of the invitees participated; the only organization that declined to send a representative was Magna Entertainment Inc., the AAEP said.

Participants emerging from the meeting described a grueling eight-hour session in which a professional facilitator, John Schlegel, pushed the participants to find common ground. The meeting did not break up until 6:30 p.m. local time, just as the Symposium's opening reception was starting.

"We covered a lot of ground today," said Jim Gallagher, the head of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Drug-Testing and Integrity in Racing Task Force. "We're talking about at least revisiting and examining the current classification system that is out there, trying to define what are therapeutic and what are not therapeutic drugs, trying to make the process a little simpler."

The agreement states that the industry supports uniform rules to govern medication policies, drug testing, security at racetracks, and enforcement.

Participants must now arrive at the specifics of those policies and then convince states to implement the recommended rules. The agreement avoided several messy issues but clarified others. The agreement states, for example, that threshold levels should be established for "therapeutic medications," but the group did not specifically identify which therapeutic medications would be allowed. The distinction becomes troublesome because some popular drugs, like the bronchodilator clenbuterol, are considered therapeutic but also have the potential to enhance performance. The group also did not make any decision on environmental contaminants, such as cocaine and morphine.

The group also settled on language that seems to suggest that the only allowable raceday medication should be furosemide, the diuretic used to treat bleeding that is commonly known as Lasix. That would put the group's recommendations at odds with states such as Kentucky and Louisiana, which allow raceday medications other than Lasix.

Participants were careful not to name certain states specifically, calling instead on states to justify the use of raceday medication other than Lasix with scientific evidence.

The group also agreed to support a national organization that would act as a clearinghouse on medication issues. The organization ideally would be funded by a broad industry base, including veterinarians, owners, trainers, and industry organizations, members of the group said.