Written by JANE ALLIN
While the approval of new and more stringent drug regulations by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) is without doubt praiseworthy, the gesture, however progressive in nature, nonetheless lacks unreserved commitment towards positive change in the North American racing industry.
As it stands, the new regulations, recommended by the Equine Drug Research Council (EDRC), are intended to safeguard those individuals purchasing a horse in a claiming race with punishment for those culpable of any Class A, B or C substance violations which include but are not limited to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Class D violations, considered “benign” therapeutics, will be exempt.
Over and above the customary penalties typically imposed upon the original owner for such infractions, the new disciplinary measures permit the new owner to void the claim of a horse that tests positive in the race out of which it is claimed. Moreover there is provision for reimbursement of any expenses incurred by the new owner for which the original connection is accountable. As additional insurance anyone entering a claim for a horse has the license to insist the horse be tested for prohibited substances after the claiming race if the horse is not on the roster for post-race testing.
All well and good and most certainly commendable particularly given the fragmented situation of drug regulations and lack of any apparent desire by North American racing jurisdictions for universal resolve. What is disconcerting however is a recommendation which generated much discussion but was stripped from the final draft detailing the new regulations. Not surprisingly the dispute and final rejection of the proposed recommendations involved none other than the ubiquitous NSAID – Phenylbutazone – more commonly referred to as bute, a powerful anti-inflammatory that has the ability to mask pain. In North America it is legal for racehorses to race on bute and many do at controlled threshold limits.
The recommendation would enforce strict penalties on the owner of any horse testing three times positive for levels of bute in excess of the allowable threshold within a time frame of 365 days. With each contravention the amount of fines and length of suspension would increase along with disqualification from the race, forfeiture of prize money and the horse being placed on the vet’s list for increasing time intervals with each successive violation.
So what is the controversy? Apparently it is a function of North America’s love affair with legal race day medications and money.
David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, contends that the penalty is so harsh that it might drive away horse racing from this jurisdiction since no other state has adopted similar rules. Yet at the same time Dr. Mary Scolay, equine medical director for the KHRC, claims that during her residency on the commission there has been no incident of a horse violating the proposed regulation of three bute positives. If this is the case, what is the harm in approving this innocuous measure all in the name of fair game?
Others argue that because it is unlikely to happen, why bother? Let’s be honest, it really has nothing to do with the fact that it hasn’t happened but rather has everything to do with money and the fact that it could happen. Switzer’s dilemma is that the state of Kentucky is competing against other states for owners and horses and is fearful that such a discriminatory regulation may deter many from racing in his jurisdiction. Moreover he flatly concedes that it will not happen until other states adopt similar regulations. In stark contrast Art Zurod, a member of the EDRC, cannot “justify protecting an owner who believes it’s OK to have three positives” and sees this measure as a means to promote leadership within the North American horse racing industry.
I ask, of the two, who has the right attitude? There is no question in my mind.
Given the much maligned reputation of North American racing this is a golden opportunity to contribute to the crusade against permissible race day medications. But then again, as is always the case, the industry continues to fail the horse – money before all else.
Why follow when you can lead? Leadership is influence.
Shame on Kentucky – Heartland of Thoroughbred Racing – and its failure to engage leadership when it is most needed.
© Int’l Fund for Horses