ARCI: We already regulate meds in racing, why not breeding and sales?

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Dec. 13, 2017

The Association of Racing Commissioners International has called for independent regulation of the breeding and auction segments of the horseracing industry based on use of medication in yearlings and 2-year-olds and an investigation into reported money laundering at Quarter Horse sales.

The ARCI Board of Directors met Dec. 8 in Tucson, Ariz., for its regular late-year meeting that focuses on model rules. It released the call for action and resolution Dec. 13.

“These significant portions of the racing industry are totally unregulated,” said ARCI Chairman Jeff Colliton, who heads the Washington State Racing Commission. “If we care about our horses and the integrity of the sport, the racing industry can no longer turn a blind eye to the need to address this shortcoming.”

The resolution appears to be a direct shot at the Coalition for Horseracing Integrity—created by The Jockey Club—which is advocating for federal legislation to regulate equine medication, drug testing, and enforcement of penalties in racing under the United States Anti-Doping Agency. The coalition has repeatedly said racing needs an independent agency to oversee medication and testing; ARCI and individual state regulatory agencies argue they not only are independent but under state law are charged with the authority to regulate racing—and perhaps more.

The Jockey Club is a breed registry and also a 50-50 partner in Equibase, the official database of Thoroughbred racing. With few exceptions, racetracks—the other partner in the industry database—have been silent on the federal bill. The major horsemen’s groups in the U.S. have unanimously opposed the bill, as have state regulators.

“The Association of Racing Commissions International is in agreement with statements made by Louis Romanet, President of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities, indicating that horses should come under the authority of an independent regulatory authority from the moment of birth and throughout their racing career,” the resolution states. “The ARCI calls for the expansion of the racing regulatory authority of its members or other suitable entity to include the breeding and sale of racehorses, and empowers its officers to begin a conversation with policymakers at all levels and racing industry constituencies to advance this concept and develop all appropriate details.”

The ARCI resolution in effect points out that the racing industry already is regulated—it is the domain of each racing state’s government—whereas the breeding and sales segments are regulated in-house, if at all. The Jockey Club is very active in the IFHA, which in recent years has advocated for horse welfare.

A release said the ARCI Equine Welfare Committee, chaired by Dr. Corrine Sweeney, a member of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission–blasted by The Jockey Club at its annual Round Table Conference and in a subsequent press release–met via conference call Nov. 7 to discuss the use of bisphosphonates—medications that slow down or prevent bone loss—on horses that race or are intended to race.

“While this class of legal medication has been specifically approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration to treat navicular disease in older horses, federal law currently does not preclude their use in young horses despite concerns about their safety and research in other mammals showing a link to stress fractures,” the release states. “In horses, stress fractures may contribute to a catastrophic breakdown.”

Committee members were concerned about the use of these drugs in young horses amid reports of their widespread use on yearlings and 2-year olds to treat pain or get them ready for the auction ring, according to the release, and some noted that the bones of horses treated with bisphosphonates may falsely appear to be fully developed when subjected to a radiograph prior to entering the auction ring.

“There is sentiment within ARCI to outlaw the use of these drugs in young horses, following the lead of the British Horseracing Authority, which has banned their use in horses younger than 3.5 years of age,” the release states. “In addition, the published drug policies of the sales companies are more lenient than those adopted by racing commissions governing the conduct of the race, particularly the permitted stacking of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.”

No NSAIDs are permitted within 24 hours of a race. There is no state regulation for horses entered in auctions.

As for money-laundering, the release mentions the federal investigation and convictions which revealed that the Mexican drug cartel was utilizing Quarter Horse sales to launder drug money, and said it “exposes another reason why the breeding and sales aspects of horse racing need to be regulated.”

“Equine breakdowns and activities relating to organized crime are damaging to the public image and acceptability of this sport,” ARCI President Ed Martin said. “While the conduct of the race is adequately regulated and racing’s anti-doping program is comparable if not superior to corresponding programs in human sport, the above-mentioned issues highlight the limitations of the existing regulatory authority in many ARCI jurisdictions.”

Officials who attended the ARCI meeting said there is broad support for an interstate compact that would facilitate adoption of model rules on equine medication and drug-testing standards. The Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has taken the lead on the legislation, which has garnered support in multiple states in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017—Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing was added this year after the bill stalled in 2015—has not yet been called for a federal committee hearing. The United States Trotting Association and American Quarter Horse Association both oppose the bill.

Along with The Jockey Club, the pro-federal legislation coalition is largely supported by Thoroughbred breeders.