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Approach to change in horseracing

Published: 
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Dancing Brave

A recent report on the horse racing Web site drf.com identified a development in West Virginia which bears a striking resemblance to what has transpired in T&T. 

The interesting difference however, is the action of the racing regulators both before and subsequent to the development. The article is for the most part reproduced in its entirety but the opportunity to highlight the differences in the response of the T&T regulator is expressed within.

On July 29, it was reported that the West Virginia Racing Commission would meet on August 1 to discuss possible responses to a spate of recent drug positives that have cropped up in the wake of changes to the state’s medication rules and a transition to a new testing laboratory. This response was attributed to the executive director of the commission. 

Conversely, from a T&T perspective, the administrators at the T&T Racing Authority (TTRA) have been notoriously silent on the goings on and what actions they were taking to address the concerns expressed by the local horsemen. Moreover, it was the horsemen who had to take the initiative of confronting the authority following rumours.

Over the past several weeks, according to West Virginia Racing Commission executive director John Myers, the state’s drug-testing laboratory in Pennsylvania has reported multiple positives for drugs that have new withdrawal guidelines under rules that became effective on July 9. While the drugs were not those that were considered to have powerful performance-enhancing effects, the drugs did include anti-inflammatory medications like corticosteroids that were more strictly regulated under the state’s new rules, which were being adopted in many states in the mid-Atlantic and elsewhere under an ongoing effort by many US racing jurisdictions to align medication rules state-to-state.

In T&T, there was reportedly no change in the rules; merely a change in the laboratory that was used for testing. In the full spirit of transparency, the horse racing community in T&T should have been advised of what were the instructions given to the new laboratory and how the new laboratory’s testing compared to the testing performed at the previous laboratory with respect to the sensitivity of the testing equipment.

“They’re all on the new therapeutic list we just adopted,” Myers said, referring to the drugs that have been detected. 

“Those are the ones that are showing up right now. They’re not the Class As or Bs.”

Myers said that the splits of the samples that have produced positives are being sent automatically to Truesdail Laboratory in California for re-testing to confirm the earlier results and to determine the concentrations of the drugs. Normally, split samples are not re-tested unless a trainer requests the procedure after being notified of a positive. In T&T, notwithstanding the change (that was only known to the TTRA), it was left up to the connections of affected horses to request that split samples be tested.

The spate of positives, which was first reported by the Paulick Report, created a sense of confusion in West Virginia among horsemen, despite the racing commission’s efforts to publicise the new rules prior to the regulations going into effect earlier this month. The authorities in T&T never indicated to the racing community that a change was either proposed or implemented. This was only discovered after the fact. During the week of July 28, a Louisiana trainer who had shipped his horse to run in that Saturday’s West Virginia Derby scratched the horse after realising that he had administered a medication, the bronchial dilator clenbuterol, too close to the race.

The run of positive tests also harkens to a recent spate of positives for another regulated medication, the muscle relaxant methocarbamol, in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Regulators have traced the positives to an unanticipated side effect when using the drug in combination with phenylbutazone, a regulated painkiller. Delaware has also adopted the uniform medication guidelines.

Myers said that the West Virginia commission would meet on August 1 to discuss whether to issue trainers warnings for the recent positives rather than fines and suspensions, among other possibilities. He said he was not certain if the commission would adopt the measure, or any other measure, citing the unavailability of the results yet from the Truesdail tests. In T&T, there remains a controversy over the differential treatment of trainers whose horses were caught following the change in procedure. While some trainers were suspended for one month, at least one trainer was able to get away with only a fine (and presumably a warning). Although not finalised as yet, it seems clear that the measures adopted in West Virginia will be equitable.

The West Virginia Racing Commission is currently bidding out its testing services to labs in the US that have been accredited by the Racing Medication Testing Consortium, according to Myers. Under the new rules, post-race drug tests must be performed by an accredited laboratory, such as Truesdail. The state’s current lab, Dalare Associates, which is unaccredited, holds a contract to conduct the testing.