February 2014 | Uniform National Drug Policy is Now in Place at Pennsylvania Tracks
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Uniform National Drug Policy is Now in Place
at Pennsylvania Tracks

February 2014 - Terry Conway

Kathleen AndersonFair Hill Training Center's Kathleen Anderson, DVM is the 2014 Association of Equine Practitioners Vice President and will be President in 2016.

When three trainers at Penn National Race Course were busted and charged with attempting to fix races by administering illegal raceday medications to horses last November 22, it gave the Grantville racetrack another major black eye.

The arrests were the culmination of a four-year investigation by the FBI into practices on Penn National’s backstretch. David Wells, Patricia Rogers, and Sam Webb were handcuffed by FBI agents and taken from the grounds. The trainers and track clocker Danny Robertson (who reported false times of workouts) were charged with allegedly devising a scheme to defraud those betting on races at Penn National by attempting to administer, and administering in violation of state racing rules and regulations, substances prohibited from being introduced into a horse within 24 hours of when the horse is scheduled to race.

Wells trained the popular gelding and Special Eclipse Award winner Rapid Redux who was retired in 2012 after setting a modern U.S. record of 22 straight wins. Wells is charged with routinely injecting prohibited substances into horses he trained and other horses he both trained and owned for several years through February 2012, by use of hypodermic syringes and needles.

The investigation has been conducted by the Harrisburg, PA, office of the FBI, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, the state police, the Dauphin County District Attorney, and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. In 2010 another Penn National trainer, Darrel Delahoussaye, was charged with giving "Red Bull milkshakes” and other stimulants to his horses. He avoided a criminal record by completing a probation program for first time offenders.

On November 21—the day before the Penn National bust— a Congressional hearing was held in Washington, D.C. that addressed a pervasive drug culture among veterinarians and trainers at U. S. racetracks.  The hearing focused on how the use of performance enhancing drugs has eroded thoroughbred racing’s popularity — and its bottom line. It was the fourth of its kind since 2008.

Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Pitts (R), the co-sponsor of the Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act, proposed legislation that would authorize the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the organization that finally took down cyclist Lance Armstrong, to regulate drugs that can be administered to racehorses and establish penalties for those individuals violating its rules. The rules would cover areas of drug withdrawal periods, approved treatments in the context of a veterinarian-client-patient-relationship, and prohibited substances and treatments.

Pitts cited recent poll numbers by the Jockey Club that showed how far public confidence had fallen in the sport even among its biggest bettors. Nearly four in five bettors — 79 percent — factored in the possibility of illegal drug use when handicapping races at certain tracks or in certain states. The money wagered in North America has fallen precipitously over the last seven years, to about $11 billion this year from nearly $15.5 billion in 2007.

“Now is the time to act and I think the best way to do that is put a single body in place that would come up with a national standard," Pitts said.

The bill appears to have bipartisan support. Published reports indicate that the horseracing industry employs 380,000 people in jobs nationwide.

Sending a Clear Message
Trying to blunt the explosive events in late November, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) submitted a letter to the Congressional subcommittee detailing the national reform effort recently undertaken by the horse racing industry to enhance the safety and integrity of the sport.  The reforms include uniform national model medication guidelines; a penalty system designed to target individuals with multiple medication violations; restrictions on the use and administration of Furosemide (the anti-bleeding drug Lasix) and a laboratory accreditation and quality assurance program.

To crack down on the use of illegal medications eleven states— including the entire mid-Atlantic region— have adopted uniform national reforms (effective January 1, 2014) addressing changes to medication regulation, enforcement and laboratory testing. In the mid-Atlantic region eighteen tracks operate within a 200-mile radius.

The states are Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia, California and Kentucky. Rules are currently under consideration in Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, New Mexico and Wyoming.

The proposed medication standard eases the burden on trainers who often deal with different regulation issues when racing in multiple states. The new uniform medication standard is what the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has been advocating for years, said Dr. Kathy Anderson, who serves as vice chair of AAEP’s Racing Committee. For the past two decades Anderson has been owner of Equine Veterinary Care, a racing and performance practice located at the Fair Hill Training Center offering ambulatory and outpatient services.

“Uniform medication rules serve foremost to protect the horse and second to improve the integrity and compliance of the racing industry (owners, trainers, practitioners and regulators) which should send a clear message to the racing public about our commitment to a safe, fair racing environment,” said Dr.  Anderson, elected the vice president of the AAEP in December, who will assume the role of president in 2016.

The AAEP, headquartered in Lexington, Ky., was founded in 1954 as a non-profit organization and reaches more than 5 million horse owners through its nearly 10,000 members worldwide. It is actively involved in ethics issues, practice management, research and continuing education.

Growing up in Merritt, British Columbia, Anderson was a typical horse-crazy girl. She competed at the rodeo and in three-day eventing. Anderson later galloped horses in the morning at Marquis Downs and ponied them at the afternoon races. While earning a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Saskatchewan, she met Dr. Martin Simensen, VMD, at the 1982 World Championships.

A top U. S. Equestrian Team vet for more than two decades, Simensen offered Anderson an externship and she then launched her practice in 1986 under his watchful eye in South Hamilton, Mass.

"I was impressed by his caring and passion for both horses and people," Anderson said. "He was a big contributor to the industry with his expertise on medications. He served as a wonderful role model."

Anderson arrived at the Fair Hill Training Center in early 1992. Back then the barns were in tatters. Top-flight horses were non-existent. The facility was on the brink of bankruptcy— for a second time.

"I remember looking around and saying, 'this will be my home,'" said Anderson, the attending veterinarian to Barbaro in 2006. "The rolling countryside was striking. What a place to work with racehorses. There probably wasn't enough business for most vets and there were major problems, but I saw Fair Hill as a huge opportunity."

Today, Fair Hill is recognized as the finest thoroughbred training facility in America with 17 barns spread over 300 acres. In 2013 the winners of the Dubai World Cup (Animal Kingdom), the Kentucky Derby (Orb) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (Mucho Macho Man) all trained at Fair Hill at some stage of their careers. Total winnings for those three races were $17 million. Anderson has been the president of the Fair Hill Condo Association since 1995.

Drug Detection
The most notable among the affected medications in the new regulations is the bronchial dilator Clenbuterol, currently legal to administer within three days of a race. Clenbuterol is given to horses for the management of airway obstruction. If a horse has mucus in the throat the drug can clean it up and help the horse get to the racetrack. In racing’s new reforms, withdrawal time for the therapeutic use of Clenbuterol prior to a horse’s race is now 14 days.

The new medication standards will also accredit testing laboratories and instill uniformity in testing procedures. In Pennsylvania, the Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory in West Chester has applied for Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) accreditation.

“That’s a big deal,” Anderson related. “Before there was a huge amount of variability regarding states’ ability to test for medications. Having uniformity in those procedures will narrow the gap between rules and reality. The challenge for individual states is restructuring their current programs to come into compliance and to provide the funding necessary. Several are looking at outsourcing the testing.”

Dr. Larry Soma, VMD, of the University of Pennsylvania testing laboratory in Kennett Square has spent much of his career developing standards to effectively test for illegal substances in racehorses. Soma acknowledges that he and his colleagues had difficulty identifying protein-based drugs and peptides and did not have the money to develop new tests to stay ahead of rogue trainers and veterinarians.

“There still are a number of drugs that are problematic and I’m sure there are many more coming along,” Soma related. “The ability of a certain state laboratory to detect certain drugs comes down to the sophistication of the instrumentation. New Bolton and Cornell University have been using analyses of equine plasma samples instead of urine testing for nearly a decade. It’s the best way to find a drug. Other smaller labs that don’t have these machines, it’s going to be more difficult.”

In the new uniform medication rules, 17 of the 24 therapeutic drugs include commonly used painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and treatments for lung and gastrointestinal ailments. The other seven include more powerful drugs used to treat specific injuries, and penalties for over-usage of those drugs will be more severe than for the other seventeen.

Lasix Battle
The anti-bleeding, race-day Furosemide, better known as Lasix, has long been a divisive issue that continues to polarize the sport. Its use remains unaffected by the new medication rules.

With the advent of the fiber-optic endoscope in the late 1970s, racehorses were examined to see if there was bleeding within the lungs. Studies have shown that bleeding is apparent in 40-80 percent of affected horses on a single post-race examination.

Equine medical director for the California Racing Board, veterinarian Rick Arthur explains that a galloping horse takes up to 130 to 150 breaths per minute and his heart beats a maximum of 220 to 240 beats per minute. The heart beats so rapidly that the left side of the heart (atrium) doesn’t have time to fill, causing blood to back up into the lungs. This increased pressure leads to the blood capillaries breaking and blood entering into the lungs' interstitial spaces (areas between cells).

Dr. Arthur pointed out that in addition to experiencing a profound effect on the cardiovascular system, horses can run three to five lengths faster than horses not medicated with Furosemide; “to not race on Furosemide is a competitive disadvantage.” This has caused nearly all trainers to put their racehorses on this medication. Opponents of the drug claim that horse trainers use Furosemide to shed water weight and gain a competitive edge.

The AAEP does not support the legislation’s proposed ban on Lasix, stating the drug is currently the best treatment option available for horses experiencing EIPH. Dr. Anderson was present at two industry meetings where there was vigorous discussion of EIPH syndrome.

“I think there are genuine concerns regarding the effect on the health of the horse,” Anderson noted. “This only serves to underscore the lack of basic science on both EIPH and effective ways to manage the problem. A number of industry organizations are seeking ways to improve this area of knowledge in the near future.”

Restrictions now require that Furosemide be the only medication authorized for administration on race day and limit its administration to no less than four hours prior to post time. In the new reforms the administration of the drug can be performed only by third-party veterinarians or veterinary technicians prohibited from working as private veterinarians or technicians on the racetrack or with participating licensees. The program is under way or in the process of being established in no fewer than 14 states, including in Pennsylvania at Penn National.

The new reforms call for the implementation of the Multiple Medication Violation (MMV) Penalty System and regulators in many other states  have indicated a desire to adopt the system once the uniform medication rules are passed in their respective jurisdictions.

NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop urged all racing states to adopt the rules in their entirety.

“They are comprehensive and far reaching, and they establish a process for future modification to reflect the latest scientific research and development,” said Waldrop, who also serves as Chairman of the RMTC. “These rules are in the best interests of the health and safety of our human and equine athletes. They enhance the integrity of our sport, ensure a level playing field for our competitors, assist horsemen who race in multiple jurisdictions and accomplish the uniform regulation of racing in the United States.”