We should all support the new Safety Coalition’s bid to solve the serious challenges racing faces

Less than one percent of the money spent on drug testing in the U.S. is spent on OOCT. Photo: ridehesten.com

On November 19, executives from America’s most important racing organizations - the Breeders’ Cup, Churchill Downs, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Keeneland, the New York Racing Association and The Stronach Group - met at Keeneland to announce the formation of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition. Their opening paragraphs define the organization in the following manner:

“The Thoroughbred Safety Coalition (TSC) is implementing a series of medical, operational and organizational reforms across the Thoroughbred racing industry to ensure the well-being of horses and jockeys, increase transparency and accountability and secure the future of the sport … Our most pressing commitment is to unify everyone involved around these initiatives and standards, and the urgency of their full implementation. These reforms are vital, but they’re also only a beginning. We’re committed to pressing forward, and aligning our industry, on emerging best practices for athlete safety.”

The TSC released a white paper on their reforms that were organized into three categories: Medical, Operational and Organizational. Click here for details of these priorities:

In the Q&A that followed the prepared remarks at that Keeneland meeting, one of the first questions asked of the speakers was “How will the reforms set forth by the coalition be enacted - house rule or commission rule?” 

Big difference

The answer seemed simple and logical enough - “These reforms will be implemented in every way possible going forward.” 

However, there is a big difference between house rules and commission rules. In the broad areas of Operational and Organizational issues, the racing association has the latitude to operate under policies developed by the racing entity and known as house rules. 

Yet anything that involves medication, veterinary or even the stewards’ activities is generally governed by a state regulatory body, such as a racing or gaming commission. For example, when I worked at the New York Racing Association, under house rules NYRA could decide who would get stalls and who had the right to enter horses in NYRA races, but it had no ability to fine or suspend trainers. The New York Gaming Commission was responsible for all aspects of gaming activity, including horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering activities.

This is the challenge that this new organization faces. The rules of racing are governed by each state and their regulatory body and the historical racing laws or regulations. In Thoroughbred racing, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC), a national organization with 23 racing-related entities represented on the board works with the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI), which represents the racing commissions for each state. 

Here is the mission statement for the RMTC: Striving to develop and promote uniform rules, policies and testing standards at the national level; coordinate research and educational programs that seek to ensure the integrity of racing and the health and welfare of racehorses and participants; and protect the interests of the racing public.

For over a decade, the talented management and staff of the RMTC have been working to develop a National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP) and to date only about a third of the total pari-mutuel states have signed on to the NUMP program. 

Despite the hard work and well-meaning efforts by the management and staff, the only way to characterize these results are an abject failure, in my opinion. 

The state regulatory bodies, along with the selected efforts of the regional horsemen’s organizations, have outmaneuvered the rest of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry. Ironically, it should probably not come as a surprise that all the racetracks of the new TSC are members of the board of RMTC. To accomplish the stated goals that are in the best interest of the racing industry, the TSC will need broad-based industry support, and I presume their outreach efforts will acknowledge that.

As you will see in the reform document, the TSC has set out very specific goals for a number of important drug-related reforms. 

These initiatives include withdrawal times for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to 48 hours pre-race; a prohibition on concurrent usage of multiple NSAIDS; increase the withdrawal time for corticosteroids to 14 days pre-race; prohibiting concurrent usage of multiple corticosteroids; and prohibiting the use of bisphosphonates on horses in training or racing, with a penalty of 12 months on the vets’ list if detected. 

Initiative to be applauded

It should be pointed out that, in most if not all the pari-mutuel states, these medication rules and reform will need to be promulgated and passed by the state regulatory entity in each state. TSC should be applauded and recognized for this important initiative to implement drug policy reform across the entire industry.

One of the major operational initiatives outlined in the reforms is: “Perform random, out-of-competition testing (OOCT) on horses without limitation. Any horse in training to race should be considered a candidate for random testing designed to reveal the use of any substances that may put the horse’s welfare - as well as the integrity of a horse racing competition - at risk.” 

This appears simple enough, on the surface, but the most significant deficiency in integrity in the U.S. racing industry today is its complete lack of state laws, policies and penalties on OOCT issues. 

When you watch a race and see a horse find a new gear and re-break away from the field at the top of the stretch, sadly you are most likely witnessing first hand a horse that is enjoying the benefits of no OOCT in virtually all American racing jurisdictions. 

California has had OOCT since 2007, but, until a law was finally passed in June, there was no punishment for positive tests. Maryland is to be congratulated for implementing an OOCT program in the last year. New York has allegedly had a program for a number of years, but Tom Noonan wrote this about the New York program

Why is OOCT so important? The racing industry has been led to believe by the current constellation of vets, trainers and regulators that post-race testing catches the cheaters.


Less than one percent of the money spent on drug testing in the U.S. is spent on OOCT. In England, Ireland, France and Hong, between ten and 15 percent of their drug testing monies are devoted to OOCT.

Peter Sacopulos, a lawyer and former operator of Green Gables Stud in Clay County, Indiana, wrote a brilliant article on OOCT for the National HBPA Horsemen’s Journal (Summer 2013 issue), in which he says:

“Out-of-competition testing aims to detect prohibited substances, primarily blood-doping agents, that are not detectable in post-race tests [and] that are specifically identified and prohibited by regulation and/or rules. Many of the substances targeted by out-of-competition testing are detectable for only a short period of time after being administered to the horse. In short, a horse administered a blood-doping agent prior to race day may test negative in a post-race test but may have received the potentially positive race-performance effect of the prohibited substance.”  

I applaud the new TSC on making OOCT a priority and recognizing that there is widespread cheating going on in our sport, which will ultimately take the game down if it is allowed to continue.

One significant event that occurred last April and was not mentioned in the TSC launch came on April 18, when 20 of the leading U.S. racetracks announced they will be phasing out the use of Lasix on race day. 

Dissenting votes

Starting next year, Lasix will not be allowed for all horses participating in 2-year-old races in 2020. This will then be extended to listed and Graded stakes in 2021. A number of national and regional horsemen’s organizations have spoken out strongly against this important initiative. 

The first public issue regarding this proposed Lasix policy appeared on October 28, when the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council (EDRC), which makes medication rules for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, voted against the proposal by a vote of 5-3. However, on November 25, the EDRC reversed its position and voted to phase out Lasix for 2-year-old races. 

The two dissenting votes were from the Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen. 

It is essential  for the management of all racetracks that joined this initiative to reach out to their trainers, owners and breeders to explain the national program and why their track is participating and the importance of this new policy for the entire industry.

It is very important to note that, despite the power of the tracks individually and now as part of the TSC, they will have to navigate both the horsemen and the regulatory agencies in the individual states. 

I think it is encouraging to see the top racetrack executives in the U.S. Thoroughbred industry step up to exhibit leadership at a time that our industry so desperately needs it. Please support them and do anything that you can or are asked to do on behalf of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition.

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