08/12/2013 3:49PM

Uniform medication reform again a major topic at Round Table


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Some racing officials involved with the effort to gain approval for uniform medication rules in U.S. racing jurisdictions reacted with frustration at the portrayal of the sport and its ongoing reform efforts during the Jockey Club’s Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing on Sunday.

The officials included representatives of horsemen and state racing commissions who said they took offense to what they called a biased portrayal of the effectiveness of the industry’s drug-testing policies and its efforts to combat illegal drug use. The officials said they believed the speakers at the conference ignored, misrepresented, or gave short shrift to their efforts to devise and gain approval for the uniform rules, which are supported by the Jockey Club.

“I thought it was inexplicably negative, in both tone and tenor,” said Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, a Mid-Atlantic-based group that has led the effort to obtain pledges from states to pass the uniform rules by Jan. 1. “Frankly, I can’t understand it. It was as if nothing is happening. They refused to even acknowledge that progress has been made.”

The dissatisfaction expressed by the officials in the wake of the Round Table underlines the tension between the Jockey Club and many racing organizations as the industry as a whole grapples with a diverse array of issues related to drug policy and criticism of racing’s culture and practices.

At the conference, the Jockey Club’s chairman, Ogden Mills Phipps, said the organization was prepared to throw its support behind the federal regulation of horse racing if the vast majority of states do not eventually endorse the rules. Prior to making the comment, Phipps had displayed a chart showing that 12 states are likely to adopt the uniform rules by the middle of next year, but he then pointed to a list of states that have not explicitly endorsed the standards and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not uniformity.”

Most racing commissions view a call for federal oversight as a threat because federal regulation of racing would likely make state racing commissions obsolete or redundant. Although most racing lobbyists do not believe that the creation of a federal framework for racing could gain congressional approval as long as Republicans control at least one house of the legislature, many racing organizations remain wary of the prospect because of concerns over the federal influence of special-interest groups opposed to racing.

Ed Martin, president of the American Association of Racing Commissioners International, which has endorsed the model rules and issued a recommendation for states to adopt them, said that he was surprised by the call for federal intervention considering the effort that many state racing commissions have put into the uniform-rules movement.

The Jockey Club’s “heart is in the right place,” Martin said. “I know they mean well. But I’m not sure what the threat of an endorsement of federal involvement really means. I know it’s not helping the reform effort. What’s helping the reform effort is that we have a number of organizations and state racing commissions at the forefront of this movement pushing for these things and trying to get consensus and get everyone on board.”

The uniform rules were devised by a wide cross-section of racing organizations, including horsemen’s groups and Jockey Club-supported organizations. The rules allow for the controlled therapeutic use of 24 medications and prohibit the raceday administration of all drugs but furosemide, the anti-bleeding medication legal to use in all North American racing jurisdictions.

The Jockey Club maintains the North American stud book and owns or co-owns a number of racing companies. Though it has no enforcement power beyond the breed registry, the organization has considerable political heft because of the make-up of its board, which includes dozens of influential figures and some of the most prominent owners and breeders in the country, including several who operate internationally.

Over the past decade, the Jockey Club has become more active in attempting to influence racing policies, most prominently medication rules, in large part because of dissatisfaction among its members at the direction of the sport and its loss of ground in the entertainment and gambling marketplace. Those concerns were only exacerbated by the recession of 2008, which led to stark declines in handle, the foal crop, and bloodstock prices.

As has been the case in recent years, this year’s Round Table focused largely on medication and safety issues, two of the areas that the Jockey Club has identified as being critical for the future of the sport.

The Jockey Club also announced at the Round Table that it had pledged to distribute $250,000 each year over the next two years to the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium to conduct out-of-competition testing on horses that are being targeted for graded stakes. Stuart Janney III, the chairman of the organization’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee, said the tests would “provide a perfect bookend to post-race sampling” and help detect substances “with long-lasting performance-enhancing effects when administered weeks prior to the competition . . . that leave no traces or residues detectable during normal post-competition testing.”

However, Dr. Dionne Benson, executive director of the RMTC, which is funded by a wide cross-section of industry organizations, said Monday that the RMTC’s board has yet to approve the Jockey Club’s proposal. She said that Jockey Club officials presented the proposal to the organization’s executive committee two weeks ago, and the executive committee forwarded the proposal to the full board for consideration during its Sept. 17 board meeting. She said the board would need to discuss the logistics and legal implications of administering the programs before considering approval.