Day At The Track

Medication rules bad for Standardbreds

02:16 AM 12 Jan 2014 NZDT
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Medication errors!!!! NY State Gaming Commission logo.jpg
Medication errors!!!!

Public hearing set for January 21!

Horsemen and women throughout the harness racing industry should be aware of an important public hearing that will be held by the New York State Commission on Tuesday, January 21. The results of this hearing could very well affect everyone in the Standardbred industry not only in the United States but world-wide.

The NYS Wagering Commission is looking to adopt the findings of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium (RMTC). Last year, in a well written letter by United States Trotting Association president, Phil Langley, the USTA withdrew from RMTC, inasmuch as they seek to wantonly impose uniform medication policies on both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds without any distinction. The two breeds could not be farther apart.

This has come about due to the high rate of Thoroughbred breakdowns at tracks throughout the state over the course of the last several years.

“What they (NYS Commission) are looking to do,” explained Standardbred Owners Association of NY President Joe Faraldo, “is to impose medication rules that maybe, and I do mean maybe, appropriate for Thoroughbred racing, but is most certainly inappropriate for harness racing.”

Back on April 2, 2013 the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) gave its final approval to the “RCI Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule”, setting the stage for uniform implementation of racing medication rules in the United States. Once they would be able to get a number of states to approve these rules, they then (RCI & RMTC) would be empowered to control medication procedures not only for Thoroughbred, but in all likelihood for Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing as well.

The trouble arises in that the majority of their rules pertain just to Thoroughbreds and unlike the Mr. Ed TV Show jingle “A Horse Is A Horse” does not apply in this case.  While everyone wants uniformity, which is a positive, that concept does not work across breeds within the pari-mutuel race horse industry.

The RCI proposal that the NYS Gaming Commission is being asked to consider calls for a strict limitation of only twenty-four (24) permissible therapeutic substances deemed appropriate for normal equine care. In NY the Standardbred rules already list nearly 64 substances that are appropriate for use. Neither Pennsylvania nor Ohio have adopted these rules and most believe that the data does not exist for such abroad based multi-breed application.

“Because our Standardbreds race every week,” Faraldo explained, “We can’t utilize these permissive meds the same as Thoroughbreds do. Accordingly, they don’t have the same effect and there is no reason to impose the same kind of restrictions that the RMTC is advocating for harness racing. Withdrawal times, threshold levels are all be different between Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds. The restricted use of Clenbuterol by trainers in Standardbreds vs. Thoroughbreds calls for a different set of guidelines to insure that the restrictions are meaningful and not arbitrary. Pennsylvania is considering a detailed study this April to get empirical data to make an informed decision on the difference in the breeds and the trainer/racing regimes existing in both industries.

“If these rules pass,” Faraldo said, “And you gave, say, a currently permitted med “#25” four months ago, your horse could come up positive and you fined or suspended even if there is only a trace amount found. It’s like taking a drink two weeks ago then having your blood test indicate that there was a trace amount still in your system and you being told that it could have an effect and you are under arrest.

 “The statistics on horses breaking down in pari-mutuel races in New York,” Faraldo added, “is that Standardbreds showed 38 breakdowns in 180,000 starts over two years compared to 300 breakdowns in 53,000 Thoroughbred races during the same time period. We just don’t have the kind of problems that Thoroughbred breed has. In fact, the proposed rules may have nothing to do with the large number of breakdowns in Thoroughbred racing. The medication rules will not prevent breakdowns unless you can change the genetic makeup of a Thoroughbred. They will always be prone to breakdowns because of of their makeup.

“We have experts coming in from many jurisdictions who will support out position with scientific data,” Faraldo said, “and we need to make sure that everyone in our industry is aware of what is taking place here in New York. This is an important issue.

“In the beginning, the USTA was very supportive of RMTC,” Faraldo added. “The USTA wanted uniformity in horse racing for rules and penalties. We went along, hoping that some positive things could be developed that were scientifically based, but that acknowledged the markedly different ways that the breeds are developed, how they race, the surfaces they race on, and the differences in training and husbandry. Then Alan Leavitt of Walnut Hall, the lead representative on the RMTC Board representing our industry was the first to warn us of the RMTC multi-breed agenda, and the USTA then withdrew its financial support only after learning that RMTC was hell bent on imposing these rules on a breed of horses they haven’t studied and obviously don’t care about – the harness horse. It is totally absurd.

“Phil Langley was still willing to try to advocate for our breed being treated differently and Phil was not treated fairly,” Faraldo said, “While RMTC was cordial to Phil they turned a deaf ear to the factual differences and the science he brought to their attention. For RMTC to be effective and supported they must be responsive to the needs of the various breeds. It cannot impose inapplicable rules to our breed in the name of uniformity when their applicability is strictly relevant to the Thoroughbred racing industry.”

The public hearing set for January 21 starts at 10:30 am and goes only until 3:00 pm. The main topic is that the harness racing industry needs to have the Standardbred remain separated from having to abide to these new rules and continue to be its own entity when it comes to permissive medication regulations.  

For those interested please go to the NYS Commission website at and contact them and voice your opinion on these new rules. The more they hear from our industry the better chances we have of getting them to drop Standardbreds from the new rules proposal and leave us governed by the rules we currently have or suggest some that again are breed specific to our Standardbreds.

By Steve Wolf for   

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