On the Medication FrontDr. Scot Waterman - Executive Director, RMTC
Ogden Mills Phipps: Thoroughbred racing is not the only sport burdened by the use of illegal and performance-enhancing drugs. But it is the only sport that depends on legal wagering for revenue — wagering that generates income for racetrack operators and purse money for horsemen.
Unlike Major League Baseball or the Tour de France, a lack of consumer confidence can inflict immediate, immense and lasting damage on our industry. We need to maintain a level playing field at all times for our fans and for our horsemen.
Two relative newcomers to the scene, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and the Equine Drug Research Institute, have focused on that objective through a two-pronged attack.
We're going to hear updates on their programs now.
We'll start with Scot Waterman of the RMTC.
Dr. Scot Waterman: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It is an honor to once again be in front of this esteemed group in order to update you on the progress of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
One of the primary aims of the consortium is the achievement of uniform rules for medication in the United States. I am pleased to say that significant progress has been made toward this goal.
Thirty states have now adopted the national rules on medication developed by the consortium and assisted by the Model Rules Committee of Racing Commissioners International.
The regulatory community deserves significant credit for this, especially since some commissions adopted the rules despite strong local opposition. The ability of the various commissions across the country to see "the big picture" speaks volumes about the positive results that can be achieved when the industry works together to solve a problem.
It also bodes well for the consortium's continuing efforts to foster uniformity.
While we have progressed toward uniformity in terms of our rules related to the use of race-day medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and prohibited practices, there is still work to be done on several other key areas.
First, the model rules for penalties are now complete and will attempt to revolutionize not only the penalties themselves but the process in which a penalty is determined at the local level.
The consortium's penalty language calls for significant suspensions along with fines based, potentially, on a percentage of the purse for drugs of no therapeutic value in the horse. For the first time, the horse, the owner and the veterinarian also participate in the penalty phase through the use of fines, suspensions and the veterinarian's list.
Since many of the positives in our industry concern therapeutic drugs, the consortium has closely examined and discussed the proper process for determining the severity of penalties in this area. It can be tricky because many of the therapeutics lead double lives: they can be beneficial to the horse but can also have performance-altering effects if given too close to the race.
To assist in this area, the consortium has developed a checklist of extenuating circumstances for stewards and commission personnel to use when determining a penalty. The use of this written document will go a long way toward unifying the process by which a penalty is determined leading to a fairer, more transparent system.
Because many of the penalties handed out in the industry are for the use of therapeutic drugs, our biggest project to date is the development of uniform withdrawal times for approximately 50 drugs that are the most beneficial to the welfare of the equine athlete.
This project involves a significant amount of research and data collection and will consume a sizeable amount of our remaining funds. Administration studies utilizing horses in training have already started and will continue throughout the year.
Because this project will require time and the problem is immediate, the consortium is also devoting part of its website to a database of existing withdrawal times throughout the country. Using contacts in each state, including practicing and regulatory veterinarians, laboratory personnel and commission staff, the consortium is creating a one-stop shop for withdrawal time information that will be accessible by veterinarians and horsemen alike.
After agreeing to standard hold-harmless language, registered users will have the ability to search both by specific drug and by jurisdiction. While this is not uniformity, the creation of this database will no doubt reduce the number of positives for therapeutic medications in this country.
I will close with a couple of success stories and one appeal.
First, through the combined efforts of Canadian authorities and the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, the consortium was able to acquire and analyze two unknown substances being marketed to enhance racehorse performance. The analysis showed these products were a painkiller made from the poison arrow frog of South America and a potent bronchodilator.
The results of the investigation ultimately led to the arrest of the supplier, and in the interim the consortium was able to notify commissions and labs around the country to be on the lookout for these previously unknown drugs.
Second, the Ontario Racing Commission just two weeks ago became the first jurisdiction to call a positive for erythropoietin in a horse sample. The testing was performed by the University of Pennsylvania lab, which also developed the method, and it was on out-of-competition samples, which is also a first in North America.
These steps go a long way toward eliminating a drug which has damaged not only the perception of our sport but, unfortunately, some of our equine athletes as well. The recent success in combating this drug once again shows how important it is to fund scientific research to solve problems and how much can be gained by jurisdictions and stakeholders working together and thinking creatively.
Finally, I would like to thank once again those organizations on the consortium board of directors that provided seed money, which directly subsidized the progress I detailed today.
As we transition to permanent funding for the consortium, I would like to publicly acknowledge the leadership provided by the [funding] organizations in ensuring the consortium is able to continue meeting its important goals.
But frankly, the financial support generated thus far is not enough to even maintain our current level of spending in 2007, so I implore the industry to get behind this effort.
These are not issues that can be solved on the cheap, and the consortium is the only organization that can do it. If the entire industry works together, the financial pain to any one stakeholder will be minimal, while the rewards to all will be immense.
Thank you very much.
Ogden Mills Phipps: Thank you, Scot. We need to honestly support this and I urge all of you to help in that matter.