The Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI)'s annual meeting got underway yesterday, April 12th, and the National HBPA's Executive Committee meeting gets underway today. Both meetings are being held at the Hyatt in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, and both will conclude on Thursday, April 14th.
Several National HBPA representatives are attending the RCI's meeting, as well as the National HBPA Executive Committee Meeting.
Monday, as part of the RCI meetings, the Racing and Medication Testing Consortium (RMTC)'s Board of Directors met. Among the items discussed at that meeting were changes suggested by the organization's Scientific Advisory Committee to an RCI model rule governing the use of NSAIDs.
The proposed changes were recently recommended by the RMTC Scientific Advisory Council and approved by the RMTC Board by a 16-2 vote. The National HBPA voted against passage.
The RMTC Scientific Advisory Council wisely took under consideration the important balance that is needed between regulatory veterinarians’ ability to effectively examine entrants prior to race time and horsemen’s ability to properly prepare their horses for competition.
At issue: Regulatory veterinarians’ ability to properly examine horses pre-race and their position that at NSAID administration 24 hours before a race and at a dosage of 5mcg./ml. for bute, trainers could get a sore horse to pass a pre-race examination. The regulatory veterinarians' position was that the rule should be changed to a 48 hour cutoff time and a 1 mcg./ml. threshold for bute (as compared to the 2 to 5 mcg./ml. thresholds and 24 hour cutoffs currently in place in most racing jurisdictions.
The National HBPA applauds the RMTC for staying with the 24 hour cutoff. As for the move to a 2 mcg./ml. threshold for bute – it may very well prove to be the right level – it is a compromise with which horsemen, regulatory veterinarians and all stakeholders could live.
However, the National HBPA has concerns with the rule making process in this case. In our estimation, the RMTC felt pressure to act in view of the RCI’s public stance in support of the regulatory veterinarians' stance.
If there was evidence that a dramatic shift in policy on therapeutic medication use could guarantee a decrease in catastrophic injuries in horses, there would of course be unanimous support. However, not one member of the RMTC, RCI or any other group can offer evidence that change to this rule will in fact result in lower injury rates.
As it stands, the National HBPA generally supported the passage of tougher pre-race examination procedures, including allowing the regulatory veterinarian to inspect a horse “outside of entry time” (in other words, allow them to inspect a horse prior to the usual 72 hours before race day). In our view, this gives a qualified regulatory veterinarians the ability to monitor suspect horses more effectively than ever before.
Likewise, other factors such as track surfaces, fatigue, breeding, and others can have as much influence on breakdowns as pre-race use of therapeutic medication.
Further, the “criminalization of bute” – an inexpensive and relatively benign therapeutic medication used by the vast majority of horsemen in an appropriate way - will lead to unintended consequences. For example, it could lead to greater reliance on other medications such as corticosteroids.
Perhaps 2 mcg./ml. is the correct dosage for bute. Or perhaps a “happy medium” lies between 2 and 5 mcg./ml.? The National HBPA's position is that we would like to find out for sure using scientific methods. National HBPA would therefore suggest acceptance of the proposed change to a 2 mcg./ml. regulatory threshold and 24 hour cutoff provided that a standard 20-horse threshold study on IV phenylbutazone be undertaken in the near future so that we can update the science and determine the optimum 24-hour regulatory threshold for phenylbutazone between the existing 5 mcg./ml. level and the proposed 2 mcg./ml. level. This seems only reasonable, and requires a simple 24-hour study which can be easily done.
Final point: A major policy shift such as this, we feel, would have sent a public message leading many to believe that all horsemen are trying to “cheat.” Otherwise, why such a dramatic shift in policy?
To that point, it bears reminding that according to the 2009 Jockey Club Fact Book, horsemen provided starters for 55,069 races across North America last year. With an average field size of 8.17, the total number of starters came to almost 450,000.
Moreover, of 55,069 races that were run across North America in 2008, assuming two tests per race, that is roughly 110,000 drug tests. Yet, according to RCI, there were only 376 medication violations in 2008, meaning that only one-third of one percent (0.34%) of all drug tests were positive. The fact is that, among 6,000 licensed trainers in North America, the vast majority are honest hard-working rule followers.
Of those positive tests, 291 violations (77%) were for Class 4 and 5 medications that are universally recognized as therapeutic medications routinely used in the racehorse and for which there are scientifically established regulatory or threshold levels. In the vast majority of these cases, the cause was far from criminal intent to enhance the performance of a horse. Rather, it was a simple dosage error or environmental contamination resulting in a minor fine.