MRC approves directives, regulations tied to equine health and safety

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Dec. 24, 2019

The Maryland Racing Commission Dec. 19 approved a host of directives and regulatory changes tied to the safety and welfare of the racehorse that will take effect in early 2020.

These changes have been under review and discussion in Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic region since July, and include revisions to the National Uniform Medication Program that were formally adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International on Dec. 12.

“The Mid-Atlantic region had been looking at safety and welfare issues well before the issues that came up at Santa Anita during the winter and spring (of 2019),” MRC Executive Mike Hopkins said. “The MRC elected to allow horsemen to be heard and to talk through these changes. Discussions have been held.”

The implementation and monitoring of the various directives will be the responsibility of MRC Equine Medical Director Dr. Libby Daniel, while the stewards will monitor compliance and horse eligibility and determine whether any penalties are necessary.

The following directives will take effect on January 1, 2020:

  • Any horse required to work in order to be removed from a vet’s list shall work at least a half-mile in :52 or better.
  • If a horse hasn’t run in 45 days, it must have at least one published workout.
  • First-time starters shall need three published works to be eligible to start in a race—one work must be from the gate and one work at least a half-mile within 30 days of entry. All first-time starters shall have a gate card on file with the Racing Office at entry time.
  • A horse that hasn’t started in 90 days shall have at least two published works—one of at least a half-mile and another within 30 days of starting.
  • Unless waived by the Equine Medical Director, a horse that has been off for more than 150 days shall be required to work three times—one in front of a state veterinarian, with blood samples taken for analysis; one within 30 days of entry; and one work of at least a half-mile. In addition, the horse shall not be allowed to enter or start until the attending practicing veterinarian signs off that the horse is sound for racing, and approval is obtained from the Equine Medical Director.
  • Trainers shall contact the clocker and provide the name of their horse that is going to work and the distance prior to the horse working. Failure to report to the clocker may result in disciplinary action.
  • A horse scratched for a medical reason shall not work within 48 hours of being scratched.
  • Any horse vanned off or put on the vet’s list during training or racing may not return to training or racing unless the attending practicing veterinarian consults with the Equine Medical Director to discuss the diagnosis of why the horse needed to be vanned off, signs off that the horse is sound enough to return to racing, works for the state veterinarian and has blood specimens analyzed.
  • A horse observed to be lame by the state veterinarian may be placed on the vet’s list at the discretion of the Equine Medical Director for an amount of time to be determined by the EMD. A horse observed to be lame a second time within 365 days of the first time shall be ineligible to race for 90 days, and in the case of a third occurrence within 365 days, the horse shall no longer be eligible to run.
  • A horse scheduled to run within seven days of its previous start shall be flagged for additional scrutiny.
  • If an override is required to take an entry of a horse, that horse may not be permitted to start until the Equine Medical Director approves.
  • Any horse found to have been treated with bisphosphonates shall be declared ineligible to run. Any veterinarian found to have administered bisphosphonates to a horse shall be subject to disciplinary action.
  • Any horse entered in a race is not permitted to leave the grounds.
  • No 6-year-old maidens will be allowed to start.

The following medication changes will take effect on February 1, 2020:

Lasix Administration

  • Administration of furosemide (Lasix) shall be restricted to 4 hours prior to post time of the horse’s race. A horse not meeting this 4-hour restriction shall be scratched and there will be no exceptions. (This rule pertains to Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing.)

Intra-Articular Injections

  • The administration of ANY intra-articular injection shall be restricted to 14 days before a horse is anticipated to run. The attending veterinarian must report the injection to the Equine Medical Director, and the horse will not be permitted to run for 14 days from the date of the injection. A form has been created for practicing veterinarians to complete on each joint injection and submit to the Equine Medical Director. For the purpose of counting the number of days, the day the day on which the horse is treated shall be the first day. The horse will be listed in a central database available to all regulators in the Mid-Atlantic region that contains the name of the horse, date of treatment and date of eligibility to race. A horse may be entered to race while on the list, but is not permitted to start until the date of eligibility.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NO NSAID CAN BE ADMINISTERED TO A HORSE WITHIN 48 HOURS OF ITS RACE.

  • The new testing threshold for phenylbutazone (Bute) will be 0.3 micrograms per milliliter of plasma.
  • The new testing threshold for flunixin will be 5.0 nanograms per milliliter of plasma.
  • The testing threshold for ketoprofen will be 2.0 nanograms per milliliter of plasma.
  • The testing threshold for diclofenac will be limit of detection.
  •  The testing threshold for firocoxib will be limit of detection.

THE PRESENCE OF MORE THAN 1 (ONE) NSAID IN A TEST SAMPLE (STACKING) IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED AND WILL CONSTITUTE A VIOLATION.

Regarding intra-articular injections, Hopkins said veterinarians already are required to report intra-articular corticosteroid injections within 48 hours, but staff will meet with them to reinforce their new reporting responsibilities.

The new medication regulations, which are new national model rules, will be moved in Maryland as emergency regulations. Hopkins noted that penalties, which could entail aggravating or mitigating circumstances, are still being discussed given the regulation changes.

“We wanted people to have the opportunity to be heard before we implemented these rules and regulations,” MRC Chairman Mike Algeo said. “We have been having meetings for a while, and these changes are not reactionary but precautionary. We are being proactive. A large majority of our discussions have revolved around track safety and track-related issues. We continue to do things that matter.”

MRC member Konrad Wayson suggested the commission in the future discuss racing surfaces and receive a report from track management on daily maintenance practices and a review to ensure procedures are being followed because “it all ties together” when it comes to equine safety. It was noted the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is holding bi-weekly meetings to address any surface-related issues raised by horsemen.

“This is a piece of the equine welfare issue,” Hopkins said.