I have read with great interest the harness racing related statements posted here in articles from well respected horsemen and horsewomen like Linda Toscano, and have seen reports in Standardbred Canada from the likes of Blair Burgess and "Gates" Brunet on the Luis Pena "records" violation case.
I have also read some track operator's comments taking issue with all of this and indicating that a "48 hour" administration prohibition is just that; period, end of sentence. Then we find more reasoned comments from HTA President Paul Fontaine calling for the uniform application of all these hard and fast rules.
Well where does all this leave us as an industry?
Mr. Fontaine is right in principle, but he falls somewhat short in demanding that the NYSR&WB do just that: DEMAND the production of all vet records for every trainer in the State of NJ who never thought for an instant that they were violating any rules in any jurisdiction by relying on their vets simply following the NJRC 2008 pamphlet loosely entitled "Medication Guidelines for Horsemen and Veterinarians."
The honest therapeutic treatment of horses is not at all a sinister or corrupt practice, but one merely necessary to keep these equine athletes conditioned for the rigors of racing.
If the guideline says 48 hours is the recommended withdrawal time of a legitimate substance, that is based upon the reality that the horse will surely not race with any of that substance in its system that could effect its performance at the critical time - when it competes in a race. That is indeed the science and these withdrawal times are geared to whether or not a substance is present on race day, or that the amount of a substance will be in such small quantity that it will have no effect on a horse's performance.
So-called "threshold levels" mean the scientific level where, if and only if the horse exceeds a specific level, then and only then is there a potential for a competitive advantage. Otherwise, the mere presence of levels of a substance, irrespective of when administered, that is still below the threshold, is meaningless as it has no effect on the horse.
Horsemen are well aware that the therapeutic treatment of these animals is critical to the training regime. They have been entrusted by their owners to undertake to not only care for their investment but also what is done for a greater interest - the proper well being and care of the horse.
Inasmuch as the veterinarians are charged with taking care of the horse's needs via therapeutic medications and simultaneously are required to avoid exceeding threshold levels on race day, is it any small wonder that they have the expertise of balancing both concerns: the well-being of the horse and at the same time making sure that no horse actually ends up racing with medications still in its system above the levels that would cause an unfair advantage because it exceeded those threshold levels at race time?
Compound this with different draw schedules at different tracks and racing a big stable in different states, and one can understand that the primary concern is taking care of the animal as well as not exceeding race day threshold levels on race day. All trainers, especially those with large overnight stables, face these concerns everyday.
Yet, as reported by Racing Commissioners International we know that rarely do trainers cross over the threshold line on race day: Most by accident and a lesser amount by design.
Given the foregoing, how can anyone claim that 72 or 48 or 24 hours is an absolute prohibition in the practical and day-to-day decisions made for the well-being of the horse and the therapeutic care managed by a practicing veterinarian? When anyone states that these day-to-day practices are wrong, despite the absence of a positive test, it is indicative of either a total failure to understand the care and training of race horses or just a wish to see one result directed at one individual regardless of the truth.
Recognizing how contrary such a posture is, to their credit many prominent horsemen have spoken out. Some, like Paul Fontaine, have called for the uniform application of these rules to everyone, and others are fearful that because of the wrongheaded approach being taken on this issue.
This procedure will claim more hard working horsemen who are simply doing the job of taking care of their horses day to day needs while not triggering a positive test. All horsemen have to be concerned now about this new paradigm being imposed upon them.
If one drank too much and got behind the wheel of a car and exceeded the threshold level one would be guilty of driving while impaired. If a person didn't exceed that level is he/she guilty of driving while impaired?
What purpose is served by a rule that says that if one were to have one drink 24 or 48 or 72 hours before driving even though he was not thereby impaired he could be penalized? Is such a rule right especially where it is used selectively against one person without that all important positive test for substances that can and are easily detected?
Track operators can pretend to want to cure the industry of its ills, but creating them in the name of self righteousness doesn't cure any problems and creates, perhaps intentionally, unnecessary negative publicity for our industry. Couple that with penalizing our stars who try to minimize the negative press occasioned by such absolute wrongheaded calls just makes one wonder what is going on here.
Are horsemen supposed to just quietly abide by the rantings and ramblings of those who really are causing our game more harm than good? Are we supposed to clear our thoughts and words given in defense of our game before we speak?
Anyone in our game who spoke out on these issues is meant to have them judged from the knowledge that when talking to a reporter things don't always come out in the context said. I credit all of the horsemen who spoke out concerning the unjust punishment meted out to anyone selectively and arbitrarily for caring for horses under the watchful eye of a schooled veterinarian who is following NJ rules to the letter.
Those are the people I pay attention to, not the know-it-alls who well don't know.... about ....