By TOM LaMARRA, USTA Web Newsroom Correspondent
LEXINGTON, KY — The Jockey Club, Thoroughbred racing’s breed registry, has called for creation of a task force to develop a comprehensive plan for equine drug testing.
The move was announced Aug. 17 at The Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. This year’s conference focused heavily on equine welfare and safety, which has been the industry’s focus since the breakdown of the filly Eight Belles as she galloped out after the May 3 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
The latest recommendations came from The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee, which was formed May 8. The proposed task force would be charged with developing a business plan for the most efficient and cost-effective infrastructure for equine drug testing and research; strict equine drug testing laboratory standards; a uniform request for proposals from state racing commissions for drug-testing laboratory services that requires adherence to those standards; and a facility to store frozen blood and urine samples for future analysis.
The racing industry — Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse — spends about $30 million a year on drug testing, more than any sport, said Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The money, however, could be spent more efficiently, he said.
“We spend $30 million at 18 laboratories, but even the best don’t have the resources to do the testing that’s needed,” Foreman said. “We’re spending the same amount on drug testing as we did 20 years ago. (State) budget cuts mean testing cuts. Our system worked decades ago, but it won’t work now.”
Foreman, a speaker at the Round Table conference, said the lab system in the United States should be consolidated to create a regional system that “makes the most sense.” He said labs could be prodded into compliance with new standards if, for instance, the American Graded Stakes Committee and Breeders’ Cup only use labs that qualify under the guidelines.
The advent of testing for anabolic steroids in racehorses has created more financial pressure for regulatory agencies already struggling with budget cuts. The industry hasn’t yet addressed finances, but officials said The Jockey Club may do so through its proposed business plan.
Foreman and others suggested lab consolidation would save money, and thus free up funds for the all important research and development.
The Thoroughbred Safety Committee issued other recommendations, including adoption and implementation by all racing jurisdictions of the model rule uniform drug classification guidelines and penalties; adoption of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium prohibition on use of alkalinizing agents, or “milkshakes,” and the publishing of all TCO2 levels; and requiring compliance with the new equine injury database.
After the conference, Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, challenged the industry to match the $30 million now being spent by states on drug testing. Martin often has said the most serious issue is finding money to support new initiatives at a time when state budgets are constricting.
“Failure to address the funding crisis facing state racing commissions fails to address the issues,” Martin said. “Nobody is opposed (to the suggest reforms). The problem is if you don’t address funding issues, you don’t address the problem.”
There was no immediate indication how the drug-testing reforms will impact other breeds, which are governed by the same racing regulators and use the same labs as the Thoroughbred industry.