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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Debate Over Proposed Bute Rule Change Tops Day's Events at National HBPA Summer Convention

Friday, July 23 was a day packed with committee meetings and speaker forums as the National HBPA's summer convention in Minneapolis continued.

The Benefit Providers Committee meeting featured some important and useful information that will be detailed in this blog at a later time. That meeting was followed by the first of two speaker panels of the day - the National HBPA WAGI Committee's economic forum titled "The Future of Horse Racing & the Horse Race Wagering Product." WAGI Committee Chairman and Ohio HBPA Executive Vice President Bob Reeves served as the panel's moderator.

First up on the panel was Bill Shanklin, a racing industry consultant and the author and founder of the racing industry blog He was followed by Canterbury Park President & CEO Randy Sampson, who talked about attracting new players and the pros & cons of the current state of the racing industry.

Next up was National HBPA President & Chairman and past Pennsylvania HBPA President Joe Santanna, who spoke about what happens when your state gets slots based on his experience in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania HBPA Executive Director Todd Mostoller provided additional details on the Pennsylvania slots experience.

The panel's final speaker was betfair's Managing Director of Sporting Affairs, Greg Nichols. Nichols spoke about the future of the wagering primarily by talking about betting exchanges like betfair. He also spoke of the pitfalls and problems with the wagering systems in some other countries around the globe.

After a break for lunch, convention attendees reassembled in the main meeting room for the highly anticipated afternoon speaker forum presented by the National HBPA Medication Committee, "Bute - 5 mcg ... To Be or Not To Be." The panel was moderated by NHBPA Medication Committee Chairman and Florida HBPA Executive Director Kent Stirling.

The panel presented all sides of the current debate over a proposed change to the RCI Model Rule regarding phenylbutazone (Bute). The proposal would decrease the allowable level from 5 mcg to 2 mcg for Bute administered 24 hours prior to racing. The current rule to govern the use of this commonly used therapeutic medication has been in place for 30 years.

With presentations from most of the leading scientists working in the racing industry, as well as current or prior practicing racetrack veterinarians, regulators, a trainer and horsemen's organization officer, and an officer of The Jockey Club, the panel brought to light a number of widely varying viewpoints on the issue. The almost three hour panel was compelling and sometimes contentious - especially during the audience questions and answer portion after the presentations were given. It was clear that many of the panelists and the HBPA members in attendance had very strong opinions on the right course of action.

The regulatory veterinarians argue that the currently allowed level of Bute may inhibit their ability to find problems in pre-race inspections since it might mask pain. They also tended to stress the importance of public perception about the treatment of our racehorses. Some of the scientists agreed with the regulatory vets.

Several of the scientists, however, stated emphatically that they did not believe that there is any conclusive scientific proof that there is any reason to change the rule or that doing so would in any way improve the safety and welfare of racehorses. Many pointed out flaws in some of the studies that do exist or noted that studies have not been conducted that would conclusively answer what difference a change in the rule would make.

Horsemen seemed uniformly opposed to the rule change, though some for different reasons than others. The recurring theme from their comments and questions was the question of what is wrong with a rule making process by which a medication regulation would be changed without first having the appropriate science done to prove not only the need for a change, but also if a change is needed, what the appropriate level should be?

The forum was filmed, and we are looking into ways that we might eventually be able to make it available online. In the meantime, a more detailed report on this panel will appear on this blog in the near future that lists all the speakers and details their positions.

The convention will continue this morning with more committee meetings. Then, attendees will have the pleasure of a trip to Canterbury Park to take in the 12th running of the Claiming Crown. The convention will conclude on Sunday morning with a meeting of the National HBPA's full Board of Directors.

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