To further clean up Thoroughbred racing's act and image, a key panel has recommended that states and racetracks move toward a top-level system of labs for equine drug testing.
The Thoroughbred Safety Committee also urged the industry to adopt uniform rules on license suspensions, collection of injury data, and checking for a kind of cheating called “milkshaking.”
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The four new recommendations from the committee came at The Jockey Club's annual roundtable discussion in New York on Sunday.
“Medication issues continue to haunt this industry and they are and will continue to be a priority for this committee, as evidenced by several of today's recommendations,” panel chairman Stuart S. Janney III said in a statement. “We once again vigorously encourage the respective industry organizations to act on these recommendations in a timely manner.”
The safety committee will continue to meet, and more recommendations are likely. They plan to continue to look at such topics as racing surfaces; medication, particularly the anti-bleeder drug known commonly as Lasix; breeding trends; field size, particularly in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby; and treatment of retired racehorses.
Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, said from Saratoga on Sunday that Keeneland management will support better labs.
“We've got to do that. It's the appropriate scientific step and it's the direction we need to go in,” Nicholson said.
Kevin Flanery, Churchill Downs spokesman, said Sunday that testing and integrity remain important issues for racing and Churchill is concerned with “how to best conduct drug testing and the proper forum for this.”
The committee called for creating a task force to “develop a business plan for the most efficient and cost-effective infrastructure for equine drug testing and research,” according to the release.
The Jockey Club board voted Saturday to underwrite the cost of developing the business plan, which could lead to centralized, consistent testing of urine and blood taken from horses to test for illegal drugs or medication overages.
Because racing is regulated by states, each state contracts with individual labs, using different standards of testing, often dependant upon what states can pay. About $30 million is spent annually on equine drug testing, but the costs vary widely from state to state.
The safety committee called for developing strict equine drug testing lab standards; creating a template “request for proposal” for states to use; and developing a facility to store frozen samples for future analysis.
Eventually, this could lead to pooling resources in regional labs that would all test to the same levels.
The safety committee, formed May 8 after the death in the Kentucky Derby of second-place finisher Eight Belles and the public outcry over Derby winner Big Brown's legal use of steroids, has previously recommended banning anabolic steroids and toe grabs, which Eight Belles was wearing, and reforming the use of whips.
Those recommendations are bearing fruit, as major industry players such as the Breeders' Cup and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association say they will require tracks to play by those rules for future races. Kentucky has passed a 2-millimeter limit on toe grabs and is scheduled to take up a recommended steroid ban later this month.
“If the Eight Belles tragedy makes us all more cooperative, less inward-looking, more proactive and more sensitive to how our sport is perceived by others, then Eight Belles may be viewed in years to come as one of the most important horses ever to step on a racetrack,” Janney said in prepared remarks.
The safety committee on Sunday also called for tightening the testing for “milkshaking,” in which horses are force-fed bicarbonate and other alkalinization agents to help them offset the lactic acid that builds up in muscles during a race.
Milkshaking is illegal in Kentucky, as in most states, but the safety committee found that testing was not uniform, if it was done at all.
“The Thoroughbred Safety Committee strongly encourages all state racing commissions to publish the TCO2 (total carbon dioxide) levels of each horse tested to ensure the public that testing is being conducted and participants are below the regulatory thresholds,” committee members said in the release.
Just as testing is not necessarily the same from state to state, enforcement of penalties varies as well.
The safety committee recommended that the industry come up with and incorporate rules “to keep suspended trainers from participating in the training of racehorses and/or benefiting financially or otherwise from said training,” according to the release. The proposed rule would attempt to stop the practice of allowing a suspended trainer's horses to run in the name of an assistant, friend or family member.
The Jockey Club already had announced that it has begun an injury database, and during the 2007-08 pilot year, 48 racetracks participated to some degree. Now, that participation needs to become widespread and mandatory to be of real use.
The safety committee recommended that reporting to the system be made a condition of licensing for racetracks, for training facilities, and for participants such as trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, farriers, grooms, vets and others.
The committee also recommended that racing authorities require and pay for pre-race and post-race exams, as well as post-mortems for all horses that die on the grounds of licensed tracks or training centers.
See the recommendations at www.jockeyclub.com/tsc.asp