Racing industry acting quickly on some reforms

In wake of congressional hearing, several jurisdictions moving to ban steroids for performance
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Aug 01, 2008


Reforms afoot: Under pressure from Congress, Thoroughbred racing authorities nationwide are moving toward a ban on steroid use to enhance performance, among other reforms.
National Report — The Thoroughbred racing industry, now effectively on notice to bring about serious reforms or look for Congress to do so, appears to be taking strides in that direction.

A ban on anabolic steroids to enhance raceday performance is likely nationwide by the end of the year, with several key racing jurisdictions already adopting that stance or moving quickly toward it.

Whether that will satisfy the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection that the industry can uniformly regulate itself is another question.

After hearing from horse owners, trainers, four veterinarians and others at a June 19 hearing, the Congressional panel made it clear it wants to see reforms in place soon.

It is expected to hold another hearing, calling a different panel of experts, this fall.

Two days before the June hearing, a Jockey Club committee called for elimination of steroid use in racing, a ban on friction-enhancing toe grabs and a series of whip-related reforms, all to be in place at North American tracks by Dec. 31.

Virtually all major racing-industry groups endorsed those proposals, but Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), ranking member of the Congress panel, questioned the groups' enforcement capability, pointing to the fact that racing doesn't have a central governing association or agency like other major sports.

Still, in the weeks since the hearing, racing authorities have been taking stronger actions, including the following:

• THE CALIFORNIA Horse Racing Board (CHRB) on July 17 reclassified the four most common anabolic steroids from class 4 to the stricter class 3, which carries a stronger penalty if they're found in a horse on race day. Other steroids were already in the stricter class.

The CHRB began testing for steroids July 1, having earlier notified owners and trainers that they should stop using them for medical purposes about 30 days before any race to ensure a negative result.

Once the reclassification becomes effective about mid-August, violations will bring an automatic purse forfeiture and 30-day suspension for a first offense, with stiffer penalties for subsequent offenses.

The board's goal was to have all the substance reforms in place in time for this year's Breeder's Cup at Santa Anita Park Oct. 24-25 to be run steroid-free, according to Dr. Rick Arthur, California's equine medical director.

• THE KENTUCKY Horse Racing Commission reorganized and met for the first time July 9, saying it expects to have regulations on steroid use in place soon. Calling the matter a priority, it formed a committee that was to meet at press time to make recommendations.

• THE NEW YORK State Senate approved and sent to the Assembly legislation that would establish a program to test for the presence of steroids in horses at racetracks, and provide funding for the veterinary college at Cornell University to acquire testing equipment.

• PENNSYLVANIA officials say horses in that state are running virtually steroid-free, since enforcement began in April of a model rule for steroid regulation. Nearly all of the first 2,000 samples tested for anabolic steroids in the state during the first two months were negative, officials say. Since July 1, any confirmed positive test results in loss of purse, a $2,500 fine and 45-day suspension. A second violation brings a $5,000 fine and 90-day suspension, and a third violation can lead to racing-license revocation.

• OTHER STATES that have adopted similar rules or are in the process of doing so include Washington, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Delaware and Virginia. Texas, Florida and Maryland are expected to take similar action.

• THE SYNDICATE that owns 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown announced that the 50-plus horses it owns will be free of steroids and all other presently legal racing medications by year's end. The tone of the Congressional hearing prompted the move, says IEAH co-owner Michael Iavarone, adding that "Hopefully, we're the first of many (owners) to take the step."

In related developments:

  • Rick Dutrow, Big Brown's trainer who failed to show for the Congressional hearing, appealed a 15-day suspension imposed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Association because another horse he trains, Salute the Count, was found to have an excessive amount of a legal drug, clenbuterol, at Churchill Downs May 2. He is free to keep training while the appeal is considered.
  • Jockey Jeremy Rose appealed a six-month suspension for whipping his mount in the face during a June 23 race at Delaware Park, reportedly causing some hemorrhaging around the horse's eye. Veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center said the horse was responding well to treatment. Rose was denied a stay of the suspension until the appeal hearing, slated at press time.
  • New York trainers, veterinarians, jockeys, track officials and others were to meet with state officials July 29 at a forum in Saratoga Springs to consider the installation of synthetic surfaces at New York racetracks.