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 Editorials

Thoughts from our editor, Joe Clancy. For archived editorials click here.

Region fosters big change in drug rules

T-crossing and i-dotting are all that remain on the biggest development in Mid-Atlantic racing history. It’s been years in the making and some said it would never happen.
Exchange wagering? Huge new bonus scheme for regional-breds? Malibu Moon moving back to Maryland? Racetrack/casino in downtown Baltimore? Breeders’ Cup at Delaware Park? Todd Pletcher shifting his stable to Charles Town?
Sorry, no. While those would be fun, this is actually bigger even if I’m being a bit over the top.


The announcement of the ?Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program tops anything to happen in recent racing memory. Spearheaded by the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the program sets up–at long last–standardized medication rules in eight states from Massachusetts south to Virginia. From this corner, uniform medication rules will mean more to the region–and maybe the country–than anything else. Ever.
Thanks to the THA, state regulators, horsemen, the Association of Racing Commissioners International, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and any number of other players, uniformity is a reality.
After years of talk, the final moves happened quickly. Last year, THA Chairman Alan Foreman talked at hearings on reform in New York and the state adopted a number of tighter regulations. New York horsemen were wary of standing alone on the issues and discussed a broader plan with Foreman, who said he would take the topic home.
A meeting of representatives from the various state racing commissions at Delaware Park in February started the wheels turning a bit faster. Shortly thereafter, the Maryland Racing Commission adopted uniform measures, ending the use of adjunct bleeder medications among other things. The West Virginia Racing Commission approved a resolution to follow the new regional model. Another meeting at Delaware Park solidified the plans, Massachusetts came on board and the announcement was made March 12. The new rules list 24 controlled therapeutic substances, make Lasix the only permitted raceday medication and also place limits on the use of Clenbuterol and corticosteroids. In addition, testing laboratories and practices will be standardized and accredited.
States already had limits and policies on most, but the now there’s one policy with one set of limits.
In a word, bravo.
The Mid-Atlantic’s six states with Thoroughbred racing–Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware–will have the same rules when it comes to medication. With New York and Massachusetts, the coalition provides an eight-state blanket of uniform rules affecting more than 16,000 races (about 35 percent of the total in North America).
The move eases the burden on trainers trying to participate in multiple states, eliminates confusion, helps horses. Most importantly, it sets an example. If eight states can agree on one set of rules, can the country? The Mid-Atlantic can be an example and drive national discussion toward uniformity.
Like an important game late in the hockey season, it’s a must-win for racing.
If it’s going to grow, if it’s going to last, if it’s going to be taken seriously on the international landscape of racing and sport, the country’s Thoroughbred industry must have the same set of rules. Period. No more questions. Races in Florida must be subject to the same standards as races in California and Delaware and Maryland and Illinois. It’s silly to discuss anything else when it comes to medication reform.
Want medication-free racing? Standardized testing laboratories and testing procedures? Easily understood, strict and fair penalties applicable across jurisdictions? Uniformity is the only way. The rest is a waste of time.
The North American Graded Stakes Committee considered Lasix reform, and yielded. The Breeders’ Cup announced it would be run without Lasix in 2013, and recently conceded. Those were doomed, if well-intentioned, missions.
Lasix isn’t the issue. Uniformity is. No state or jurisdiction or special event should be saddled with the added baggage of trying to affect fundamental change. It won’t work. Racetracks compete for horses, states compete for gambling dollars, horsemen compete with each other for purse money. Why would an individual state or race or track or event consider making a change when such action would create isolationism and a competitive disadvantage?
So take a bow, Mid-Atlantic (and Northeast) region. You helped a slow-to-change sport make progress. You led. You set an example. Other states, the next move belongs to you.

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