PHRC to pursue legislative action on interstate compact

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: May 1, 2019

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission April 30 adopted a resolution stating it will pursue membership in the Interstate Anti-Doping and Drug-Testing Standards Compact, which is designed to facilitate quicker, more uniform adoption of agreed-upon model rules governing equine medication policy and testing procedures.

The compact was adopted last year in Maryland and Delaware and is under consideration in the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

The resolution directs PHRC staff and the state Department of Agriculture, under which racing regulation falls, to work with the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass compact legislation that would be limited to Thoroughbred racing in the state and include a 30-day opt-out provision. The Standardbred industry wasn’t included given opposition from stakeholders.

The resolution says Pennsylvania would “join with other states to create uniform and effective regulations” within the parameters of the compact. Though all racing states in the region have adopted the National Uniform Medication Program, the period of time it takes each state to adopt regulations varies by statute.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International, which along with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium sets model rules, is a proponent of the interstate compact.

The PHRC took the action during a meeting that included lengthy discussion on the current environment in racing in the wake of a series of catastrophic injuries at Santa Anita Park in California, increased scrutiny by animal rights groups and a proposal by a coalition of racetracks to implement a partial ban on race-day Lasix beginning in 2020.

Commissioner Russell Jones Jr., who represents the Thoroughbred industry, touched on the battle between science and public perception when it comes to use of Lasix, which combats exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage and is the only medication approved for use on race day in North America. Jones said he doesn’t question the science that supports use of Lasix but believes the public doesn’t understand it.

“We are in the deep trouble of public perception,” he said. “Science is fine but you’ve got a public that doesn’t understand the science of a lot of what we’re doing. There is a compromise that has to be made for the survival of the sport.”

Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director Todd Mostoller said he respects Jones’ perspective but believes “there is no compromise on the health and welfare of the horse. We are not going to let an uneducated public and perception drive our position.”

The Pennsylvania Racing Coalition, which consists of horsemen and breeders’ associations, had earlier issued a statement that the current policy governing race-day Lasix is based on “credible medical experts” and that a ban could have the opposite of the desired effect sought by race-day Lasix opponents.

The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is a member of the coalition. PTHA President and PHRC member Sal DeBunda said “insiders” understand how the business works while the general public may not. Mostoller said he expects to see a much stronger effort by veterinary associations to educate the public on equine health and welfare issues such as Lasix use.

PTHA Executive Director Mike Ballezzi acknowledged the public perception issue but said the most serious problem is use of illegal drugs and the length of time it takes for adjudication of cases involving those who may violate regulations. He made similar comments roughly two years ago during a presentation on integrity at a PHRC meeting.

“It has nothing to do with Lasix,” Ballezzi said.

“There are people on both sides of the issue who won’t change their mind,” Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association Executive Secretary Brian Sanfratello said. “But there is so much else that needs to be done (regarding safety and integrity). Let’s get done everything we can do and address the Lasix issue afterward.”

At the request of Thoroughbred stakeholders, the PHRC said it will continue discussions on the issue and involve all stakeholders in the process.

“Is there a compromise—a centering point?” PHRC Chairman Russell Redding said. “If so, it seems to be fairly elusive. Both sides can’t be wrong and both sides can’t be right. We ought to continue this conversation. I don’t think it simply falls here—it’s at large in the industry.”

(Penn National photo by THA)