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Monday, April 18, 2011

National HBPA Releases Formal Response to RCI Five-Year Plan


Please find below two documents that the National HBPA is formally releasing this morning, Monday, April 18th.

On Friday, April 15th, the National HBPA Board of Directors unanimously agreed that the time was appropriate for our organization to state our position publicly. 

The National HBPA Board unanimously approved the release of these documents and authorized President and Chairman Joe Santanna to fulfill the actions our press release proposes.  Thus, if the NTRA Board, at their Monday, April 18th  meeting, asks for a vote to endorse a resolution endorsing the RCI proposal as it is currently written, the National HBPA will vote no. 

For Immediate Release - National HBPA Response to RCI Five-Year Plan

The National HBPA Board of Directors met on Friday, April 15, 2011 and unanimously agreed that it cannot support the five-year plan announced by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) on March 28th to “embrace a strategy to phase out drugs and medication in horse racing” as it is currently written.

As the national representative of the largest number of horsemen who would be directly impacted by what the RCI proposes, the National HBPA takes issue with RCI’s strategy of pushing a proposal with such far-reaching implications without initially conferring with any of the major representative horsemen’s groups, including the National HBPA.
   
The National HBPA agrees that within the five-year goal established by the RCI, a national plan that addresses the concerns it has raised could be attainable.  However, the vagueness of the RCI’s proposal and its pre-determined outcome are cause for great concern.

Currently, there is no allowable race-day medication in the U.S. other than the permitted race-day use of Furosemide and/or other adjunct medications used to prevent Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH).  Thus, the issue should not be about “race-day medication,” as stated by the RCI, but rather the race-day use of anti-bleeding medications used to prevent EIPH.
  
Further, given the five-year window the RCI has proposed, the National HBPA feels it is not unreasonable for our industry to allow the time needed to allow voices to be heard from other industry stakeholders beyond those who have weighed-in thus far, including jockeys, some in the veterinary and scientific communities, racing secretaries, casual fans, dedicated horseplayers (and their organizations), and the racing media, among others.

Therefore, the National HBPA proposes that, before committing to the RCI’s or any other plan or proposal, it will dedicate its Summer Convention scheduled to be held on July 21-24 in Seattle, WA entirely to a thorough analysis of the RCI plan.

In so doing, the National HBPA will prepare speaker forums charged with addressing key questions we feel have not been sufficiently addressed, including:

  1. What might be some of the unintended consequences of the RCI’s proposal?
  2.  Beyond just eliminating race-day anti-bleeding medications, how do we address the scientifically proven fact that over 80% of racehorses are affected by EIPH during their racing careers?
  3. Despite clear evidence to the contrary (See “Analysis” below), a negative public perception of medication use in racing lingers. Would the RCI proposal take steps to correct this misperception?  What is the role that horsemen should take to address this public misperception? 
  4. What alternative non race-day therapies or best practices for treating EIPH exist that would be available to horsemen and veterinarians?  How do trainers from other parts of the world adjust their training methods to compensate for EIPH, and is this possible given the training environment in the U.S.?
  5. What would the economic impact of this rule change on U.S. racing be?
  6. What factors – such as climate, stress, etc. – make U.S.-based racehorses more prone to EIPH than horses in other countries?  

Analysis of 2009 – 2010 Medication Violations in North America 
Using information provided by the RCI and obtained from published data of The Jockey Club, we submit the following:

Year        # of          # of            # of                 # of Licensed
                Races       Starters    Violations     Trainers
2009      54,121     446,196    565                5,951
2010      50,918     417,192    572                6,071

If two horses are tested from each race and average field size is slightly more than eight horses, then horse racing tests approximately 25% of its participants during each and every of its live events. We would argue this is a standard that is equal to or exceeds the testing in any other sport.

Year        # of                # of Horses     % Positive      % in
                Violations     Tested                                        Compliance
2009       565                108,242           0.52%             99.48%
2010       572                101,836           0.56%             99.44%

If we consider the Class 1-2-3 violations (4 & 5 cover therapeutic medications) and correlate that to the licensed trainers, with an assumption that no trainer received more than one violation, then:

Year        # of 1-2-3      # of                % Positive      % in
                 Violations     Trainers        Positive          Compliance
2009      117                  5,951             1.97%              98.03%
2010      119                  6,071             1.96%              98.04%

As these statistics show, approximately 99.5% of all horses tested in North America and 98% of trainers (with regard to non-therapeutic medications) are in compliance with the existing, scientifically proven medications standards for threshold levels and withdrawals times.

While concerns over the negative public perception are legitimate, they are in many regards an emotional one.  Moreover, indirectly defaming all trainers as “needle” pushers because they use an approved and scientifically proven therapy for EIPH will not help matters.  While we address the public perception, it is equally important to correct the public’s misconception.

The National HBPA is dedicated to gathering divergent and reasonable viewpoints on this issue and will continue to rely upon the reasoned, professional, and scientific approach to the medication policy that statistics show serves our industry well. 

Below is a more detailed open letter from the National HBPA to the racing industry that expands on some of the points mentioned above:

Open Letter to the Horse Racing Industry: National HBPA Response to RCI Five-Year Plan

On March 28th, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) sent out a press release asking the racing industry and its member regulators to “embrace a strategy to phase out drugs and medication in horse racing” over the next five years.

The release gave no further concrete details about the strategy it asked the industry and its members to embrace and was unclear as to whether the phase-out would apply only to race-day medication, or if it would also include therapeutic medication used for training.  The release acknowledged that, “In recent years, RCI has based its medication policies largely on recommendations from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC). A shift toward ‘zero tolerance’ would mark a departure from that practice and a major change for trainers.”

Note: Since the time the RCI's March 28 press release was distributed, the National HBPA has been informed that current RCI Chairman William Koester of the Ohio State Racing Commission does not subscribe to the policy of "zero tolerance."

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) believes the RCI’s “zero tolerance” goal is both unwise and unrealistic – especially since environmental substances and increasingly sensitive testing make “zero tolerance” a virtually impossible goal.

Outgoing RCI Chairman Dan Hartman stated in the release that “a five-year phase out is reasonable to bring North American racing policies in line with what is going on in other parts of the world like Europe and Hong Kong.”

However, aside from the race-day use of Furosemide (essentially a diuretic used to reduce the amount of water inside a horse’s body in order to allow its lungs to more efficiently expand and contract) and/or other adjunct medications to treat Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH – see below), there are no medications allowable on race-day in our sport. 

While a sober and reasonable debate would be worthwhile, what is needed most in regards to the RCI’s proposed five-year phase-out of medications is perspective, not emotion.  The stakes are high, and at risk is what makes U.S. racing unique – its diversity.  Increasingly, the U.S. is the only place where our sport remains accessible to both the billionaire and the bakery owner. 

Make no mistake – what the RCI is proposing would have a profound effect on what defines U.S. horse racing.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with the RCI proposal, it will mean a significant reduction of the numbers of horses able to participate in our sport – especially at our small to mid-market tracks.  

Moreover, in order to avoid openly addressing the true issue – the race-day use of Furosemide – the RCI has chosen to ring the alarm bells by using hot-button language like “needles in horses’ necks” and the threat of Federal intervention in order to, it seems, side-step further discussion. Instead, the RCI launched a public-relations campaign which forces industry groups like the National HBPA to accept a false choice:  either go along with the RCI’s position or risk being labeled as those who favor “drugging” horses. 

Perhaps many horsemen might agree that current policies addressing EIPH should be changed, but they have not been given the chance to have a reasonable debate to address the many unintended consequences this policy might have.

Thus, the question remains: if the use of Furosemide is banned, will EIPH magically go away? 

The RCI is looking for a simple solution to a complicated issue.  With this in mind, the National HBPA recommends that the racing industry engage in a reasoned debate about the core issue: the race-day use of Furosemide to treat EIPH, as well as what non race-day alternatives exist to address the proven existence of EIPH in over 80% of racehorses  (if race-day use of anti-bleeder medications are not an option).  

To that end, the National HBPA offers a few important talking points we feel ought to be part of this discussion: 

Zero Tolerance … The Myth
Since the RCI cited “zero tolerance” in its March 28th communication, the National HBPA is compelled to clarify a few misconceptions about so-called “zero tolerance.” No racing jurisdiction on earth today regulates therapeutic medications on the basis of "zero tolerance."  Regulators in Europe – whom the RCI has cited – use Harmonized Screening Levels (HSL), which means that they limit the sensitivity of their testing and publish withdrawal time guidelines for therapeutic medications. 

“Zero tolerance” is, in practice, an ever-changing standard.  As analytical instrumentation improves, “zero tolerance” testing will condemn U.S. racing to an unending cycle of ever more sensitive and absurd positive findings for irrelevant traces at the parts per quadrillion level (essentially the equivalent of one second in the life of someone who lived 32,000 years) of therapeutic medications found at times increasingly further removed from the moment of administration.

According to Dr. R. L. Smith, Molecular Toxicology, Imperial College School of Medicine of London, England, at the 2000 ICRAV Proceedings (page 12), “The zero tolerance approach adopted by so many racing authorities is, in essence, an illusion in which the magician is the racing chemist. “

Class 4 or 5 therapeutic medications (mostly NSAID-type medications such as Phenylbutazone) are used to ease the aches and pains of training – akin to a person taking an Advil before or after a competition.  It will not make that individual run any faster or jump any higher than his or her natural ability to do so.   

Due to increasingly sensitive testing instruments, commonly used and recognized therapeutic medications legitimately given to horses in training by a licensed veterinary professional can now be detected on race day – even when prolonged withholding times have been observed by horsemen and their veterinarians.

With modern testing being done at such minute levels, “zero tolerance” is not a reasonable target. In fact, allowances should continue to be made to recognize this higher sensitivity, as should have been the case last summer in Minnesota and Colorado when horsemen (many with perfectly clean records) were suddenly embroiled in a roundup of “cheaters.”  

Further complicating matters is the reality of environmental substances.  Studies have proven that horses that have not been administered any medication have nonetheless shown, when using new testing methods, trace amounts of medications at levels evidencing environmental substances from contact with bedding, shared tack (bits especially), discarded coffee cups, misplaced donuts (caffeine positives), or even environmental substances found on stall walls.  

Nowhere in the world is "zero tolerance" the testing goal of laboratories.  For example, Europe (Great Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, and Italy) had 16 harmonized screening levels (regulatory thresholds) three years ago and, by many estimates, even more today.  Some of these thresholds from different parts of the world are, in fact, at higher levels than are permitted here in the U.S for the same substances. 

Australia observes a number of regulatory thresholds already, and Dubai has withdrawal times for numerous medications that, like New York and Kentucky, must be based on a regulatory threshold.

If the RCI intends to also eliminate the ability for horses to train on any drug or medication – therapeutic or not – this would clearly go well beyond the policies of many of the countries it purports a desire to emulate.

Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH)
In reality, North American racing policies are already in line with many other countries around the world with one exception – the ability to administer race-day medication to prevent Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH).

EIPH means what it says: with enough exertion in the racehorse, pulmonary hemorrhage is induced.  When raced, horses inevitably bleed into their lungs.  All that differs is the amount of the bleeding and, ultimately, a small number of horses (approximately one in 1,500) will unfortunately die on the track from acute EIPH. These are the facts.

The 2009 South African Furosemide Efficacy (SAFE) study scientifically established that pre-treatment with Furosemide reduces EIPH, proving U.S. horsemen correct in this long-held belief. 

As set forth in the introduction to the SAFE study, “At least 80% of racehorses can be expected to develop the condition (EIPH) at some time during their career, approximately 60% of sudden deaths during racing have been attributed to pulmonary hemorrhage … severe EIPH has been shown to adversely affect race performance, and EIPH is believed to adversely affect the overall health of racehorses.”

It should be noted that the SAFE study was carried out by an international group of scientists and supported, in part, by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation; the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC); National Horseracing Authority of South Africa; Phumelela Gaming and Leisure, Ltd; TecMed, Ltd; Racing South Africa, Ltd; The Thoroughbred Racing Trust of South Africa; and other private donors.

Anti-furosemide “shock and awe” statements like those used by RCI Chairman Koester when he remarked, “Today over 99% of Thoroughbred racehorses and 70% of Standardbred racehorses have a needle stuck in them four hours before a race …” can serve no other purpose than to further swell the negative public perception of horse racing while painting all horsemen with the broad brush of “cheater” when this is not the case (See “Analysis of 2009 – 2010 Medication Violations in North America” on page 5). 

While some will argue against the use of furosemide in any instance, a regulated and measured policy that addresses EIPH – one based on science – has been proven to safeguard the safety and welfare of horse and rider.  Banning it without properly discussing options may put the lives of some horses and jockeys at risk.

The NTRA pointed out this fact in a public response it issued to answer questions about the RCI release, saying, “With the exception of medications aimed at preventing exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), all race-day medications have already been banned in North America.  Any discussion of further changing medication policies needs to balance public sentiment and the welfare of the horse.”

Is Everyone Cheating?
An unknowing public relying on the RCI’s press release could easily surmise that horsemen are cheating. Before we completely lose the battle for public opinion, let’s consider the facts:

Each year there are generally over 100,000 horses racing in over 50,000 races that are tested for drugs. The winner and usually a horse selected at random are tested after each race. According to RCI data for 2009 and 2010, there was a per-year average of 569 medication violations detected through these test results (showing the presence of drugs). Thus, from 210,078 tests taken in 2009 and 2010, only 0.54% of all the tests taken resulted in a violation (positive).

Moreover, out of the 100,000 tests taken each year in 2009 and 2010, an average of 26 tests resulted in a Class 1 or Class 2 violation – that is just 0.0026% of all tests taken in a year. That is less than 3/100ths of 1%, hardly a number justifying a conclusion of rampant cheating.

And how many violations for Lasix? The two-year average was 20. That is 0.002% of all tests taken.

In the two-year analysis, by far the greatest number of violations discovered were for Class 4 and 5 substances, which comprised 76% of the 569 annual violations. Of these, 262 – or 46% – were for Bute or Flunixin (the horse’s equivalent of aspirin), which still amounts to only 0.043% of the total tests taken.  These are medications that are universally recognized as therapeutic in the racehorse and which must be cut off 24 hours before a race. This record of very low percentages of violations is one that should be envied by other professional sports like football, baseball, and bicycling, which to our knowledge do not attempt to regulate this class of medication.

Additionally, based on RCI records from 2009 and 2010, an average of 6,011 trainers in North America are issued 8,418 licenses (Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse) each year.  So, using a base of 6,000 individual trainers licensed each year, it bears notice that – on average – of ALL licensed trainers, only 1.2% received a Class 1,2, or 3 violation (of course, this does not encompass repeat offenders). 

The bottom line is that the overwhelming majority – 98.8% of licensed Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse trainers across North America – are honest and abide by established medication rules. 

Analysis of 2009 – 2010 Medication Violations in North America 
Using information provided by the RCI and obtained from published data of The Jockey Club, we submit the following:

Year        # of          # of            # of                 # of Licensed
                Races       Starters    Violations     Trainers
2009      54,121     446,196    565                5,951
2010      50,918     417,192    572                6,071

If two horses are tested from each race and average field size is slightly more than eight horses, then horse racing tests approximately 25% of its participants during each and every of its live events. We would argue this is a standard that is equal to or exceeds the testing in any other sport.

Year        # of                # of Horses     % Positive      % in
                Violations     Tested                                        Compliance
2009       565                108,242           0.52%             99.48%
2010       572                101,836           0.56%             99.44%

If we consider the Class 1-2-3 violations (4 & 5 cover therapeutic medications) and correlate that to the licensed trainers, with an assumption that no trainer received more than one violation, then:

Year        # of 1-2-3      # of                % Positive      % in
                 Violations     Trainers        Positive          Compliance
2009      117                  5,951             1.97%              98.03%
2010      119                  6,071             1.96%              98.04%

Testing Laboratories
Why have regulators not aimed their “zero tolerance” goal toward the very testing laboratories with which they work?  Perhaps it is because regardless of whether U.S. racing bans race-day medications or not, we will still be left with a ramshackle system of too many testing labs, some without the necessary accreditation and many which use dated equipment and differing procedures – factors which have led to false positives and unfortunately, in some cases, “gotcha” regulatory practices. 

Key U.S. racing stakeholders such as the NTRA, RMTC, and the major horsemen’s groups, among others, have endorsed an industry initiative which would: a) reduce the number of testing labs across the U.S., focusing on quality versus quantity; b) require that all testing labs have the highest standards possible (for example, a minimum ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation), and; c) require that all U.S. labs apply uniform practices, the best and latest instrumentation, and quality control safeguards.

So why was this not part of the RCI’s five-year plan as well?  

Absolute Insurer Rule
In most states, a trainer is held responsible under the “absolute insurer” rule for any medication violation even if he or she had nothing to do with administration of the medication in terms of dosage, timing, or choice of treatment. Why not hold the practicing veterinarian similarly responsible under an absolute insurer rule?

In Conclusion
The National HBPA strongly urges the RCI and the racing industry at large to “pump the brakes” on their desire to sign onto a five-year plan which, for all intents and purposes, already has a pre-determined outcome. 

Do we need to have a national discussion about race-day use of anti-bleeding medications, zero tolerance, and negative public perception of our sport?  Absolutely.  However, it is vital that we balance the needs of effective regulation of our sport with sensible training practices that benefit the horse.  These issues are not as black or white as some would have us believe. 

The National HBPA believes strongly in scientifically sound and properly enforced regulatory policies.  Proper regulation should be the goal, and while we may not be perfect, we are certainly much farther along than was the case even a decade ago. Arguably, with the exception of the race-day use of medications to treat EIPH, most U.S. testing procedures and medication standards are equally or more strict than those in other countries around the globe.

Let’s step back from the “shock and awe” tactics and focus on policies that are in the best long-term interest of the racehorses and the owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, and exercise riders who care for them each day.

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