Maryland horsemen advised on change in corticosteroid regulation

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Sept. 29, 2021

During a Sept. 28 webinar hosted by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, veterinary and regulatory officials explained the recent decision by the Maryland Racing Commission to modify a regulation on five corticosteroids to eliminate testing threshold levels and employ limit of detection for the substances—the lowest level a lab can confidently determine that a substance is in a sample.

The MRC, upon the recommendation of its Equine Safety, Health and Welfare Advisory Committee, took the action at its Sept. 23 meeting. The change was filed with emergency status and there will be a public comment period. It is anticipated the update regulation will be implemented Nov. 1.

The five corticosteroids are dexamethasone, prednisolone, betamethasone, isoflupredone and triamcinolone. The current 14-day stand-down period for intra-articular injections will remain in place under 2019 model rules approved by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

Alan Foreman, MTHA general counsel and Chief Executive Officer of the THA, said that when the 14-day stand-down for four of the corticosteroids and guidance that dexamethasone not be administered within 72 hours of a race was adopted in Maryland in early 2020, the RMTC recommendation that testing thresholds for the five substances be removed was not part of the regulation. The recent action by the MRC also is in keeping with the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities and is in place in other states in the region.

“It is the best and only way to regulate these corticosteroids,” Foreman said of restricted administration times, which are currently in place in New York.

View Sept. 28 webinar here

The Equine Health, Safety and Welfare Advisory Committee discussed the proposal at a Sept. 8 meeting as a result of several dexamethasone positives and reports the corticosteroid was being regularly administered by some veterinarians at 48 hours before a race at a lower dose rather than the RMTC-recommended 72-hour withdrawal time at the regular dose.

MRC member Dr. Thomas Bowman, who chairs the advisory committee, said during the webinar that since Industrial Laboratories began testing Maryland racing’s equine samples in the spring, there were a handful of dexamethasone positives under the existing regulation that employs testing thresholds. There have not been any since that time, he said.

“I want to reassure horsemen this apparent change in reality isn’t much of a change at all,” Bowman said. “Since the lab change (from Truesdail) there have been only a couple of positives. If zero tolerance was in effect there wouldn’t have been a single positive test (result) since the initial positives.”

During a question-and-answer session, horsemen on the webinar sought clarity and asked why the regulation needs to be changed if there were no positives after the first few were made public. Dr. Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinary Officer for 1/ST RACING (The Stronach Group), and RMTC Executive Director Dr. Mary Scollay offered their insights.

“You can give dexamethasone at 72 hours (before a race), but there will be more risk now (when the new regulation takes effect),” Scollay said. “It’s up to you to make your own risk assessment. Other laboratories may have lower limits of detection (than the Maryland lab), so I urge caution if you cross state lines. The lab sensitivity may be lower. Five-day (120 hours) guidance for dexamethasone is safe.”

Benson said the amount of a substance found in a sample depends on the laboratory’s limit of detection and its equipment. She also said the 120-hour guidance for dexamethasone is recognized internationally.

“The issue is can they see it (in a sample) or not see it?” Scollay said of limit of detection. “It might be OK at 72 hours but there are no guarantees. There is no such thing as life without risk.”

Foreman said the suggestion for longer administration times before a race is not “deleterious to the health and welfare of the horse.”