By Alexander M. Waldrop
Recent reports concerning alleged abuse and neglect in horse racing have sparked a debate, including criticism from inside and outside the industry. There is justifiable skepticism about our ability to achieve national reform in a state-regulated industry.
Fortunately, we are well down a path that can ensure national implementation of the most comprehensive set of reforms in modern horse racing history.
More than 60 tracks, horsemen's groups and industry organizations support adoption of the Uniform National Medication Reforms. In the past 12 months, regulators in states that account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. pari-mutuel handle have expressed a willingness to consider the reforms. What we need is uniform adoption and swift implementation.
The reforms fall into four categories: uniform medication guidelines, a multiple medication violation penalty system, procedures to control security and access to the horse on race day, and a laboratory accreditation program that will ensure tough and uniform testing standards nationally.
■ The Medication Schedule identifies therapeutic medications that have been recognized as necessary for treating illness or injury in the horse. For each medication, a schedule lists a level at which the testing laboratory is to report a positive test, based upon years of scientific research.
■ The Multiple Medication Violation Penalty System provides for enhanced penalties for multiple medication violations, regardless of where they occur.
■ Furosemide (Lasix) can be administered only by third-party veterinarians or veterinary technicians and access to the horse on race day is controlled.
■ A laboratory accreditation and quality assurance program. Tough new medication rules are ineffective without high quality testing.
Since key portions of the reforms were implemented in New York over a year ago, racing fatalities have been reduced by more than 40 percent.
Five states have implemented the Medication Schedule. Eight other states, including Kentucky, should be added to the list soon.
Three major racing states — Florida, Louisiana and Oklahoma — are not considering adoption at this time.
Third-party administration of furosemide is under way or in the process of being established in at least 16 states, including Kentucky.
A national database is up and running to track all penalties.
Laboratories conducting testing for 25 racing jurisdictions have been or are in the process of being fully accredited. Seven states — including Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana and Texas — currently test using non-accredited labs. This should not be tolerated in an industry where health, safety and integrity are at the center of all our decisions.
This effort — coupled with elimination of anabolic steroids, establishment of the Equine Injury Database, and formation of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance — indicate the industry has made meaningful progress.
But we must go further. The lack of participation by some states is unacceptable.
It is time for everyone with a stake in the game to urge racing regulators to enact the Uniform National Medication Reforms.
Alex Waldrop is president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and chairman of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.