Two years ago, the Thoroughbred industry’s favorite newspaper, the New York Times, began its now annual “let’s bash horse racing series” right before the Kentucky Derby. This “All the news that’s fit to print” newspaper led of their assault on racing with a long article with the catchy title, Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys. In this article, the Times tracked horses for a three year period that “encountered a physical problem, like ‘broke down,’ ‘lame’ or ‘vanned off.’” In a side bar article it listed the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse race tracks with their number of “physical problems” per thousand starts. Below I will list the top 10 U. S. racing states by lowest average physical problems per state followed by that average percentage, number of tracks surveyed and number of Quarter Horse tracks in that state:
- Florida 2.4 4 1
- Pennsylvania 3.0 3 0
- Arkansas 3.2 1 0
- Louisiana 3.5 4 1
- Kentucky 3.6 4 0
- Maryland 3.7 2 0
- New Jersey 4.4 1 0
- New York 4.5 4 0
- Illinois 5.9 3 0
- California 7.7 4 1
Gee, that medication uniformity “obstructionist” Florida had by far the lowest “physical problems” per 1,000 (less than one third of California!) and they have no synthetic tracks and supposedly more liberal rules on therapeutic medication than any other state, but possibly Louisiana, the other “obstructionist” state. Maybe the more liberal use of therapeutic medications keeps horses sounder? No wonder both these states have not been in a rush to adopt, in my opinion, the not quite ready for “Prime Time” (but getting closer) Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule and the Multiple Medication Violations (MMV) schedule.
Before watching California Chrome humble this year’s Derby field, I listened to the talking heads ask Jerry Bailey about the national movement for uniform medication. Jerry answered it twice in a quite fair manner, I thought, saying that most states were in the process of adopting or had adopted the uniformity program. He went on to say that there were two states that had made no effort to buy into uniformity, Florida and Louisiana, but added they were now saying that they too were interested in getting involved in the uniformity movement. The last time they asked Bailey the same question, he said much the same, but added that Florida “was the Wild West” when it came to medication use.
The “Wild West”? Amazing Mr. Bailey always chose to ride the winters in Florida even though the other major winter tracks offered higher purses. If the “Wild West” is having one additional race day medication that inhibits heat prostration, then I’ve got to ask about all those Mid-Atlantic States that have more than one legal race day adjunct that can be administered with Lasix at either three, three and a half or four hours prior to post time, depending on the state. And their average “physical problems” per thousand starts doesn’t look so hot either.
Over a year ago In Florida, we had the President of the Jockey Club send a letter to the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (our version of a racing commission) pointing out how bad our medication statutes and rules were, and how the Jockey Club could fix them for us. The tracks and horsemen were not sent a copy of this letter, and when I chanced across a copy, I responded that the Jockey Club is a breed registry, and other than that they don’t have any business in Florida trying to dictate new medication rules directly to our regulators, who sadly are somewhat lacking in their knowledge of horse racing in general.
A number of months later, the Executive Vice President of the Jockey Club, Matt Iuliano, asked if he could come to Florida and meet with a few of us (Track Veterinarian, Dr. Patti Marquis, and FHBPA President, Phil Combest) in the FHBPA office at Gulfstream. He did, and we all went over Florida Statutes and rules for several days. There was a lot of give and take and understanding of why things were as they were in Florida. He came back yet a second time, and we agreed to support certain changes to our state statutes and rules. In Florida, statutes would have to be changed in order for things like the Controlled Therapeutic Medications to be adopted.
Early on in this year’s legislative session it became obvious that what we had been told before the session began was going to be true. Nothing was going to pass in Chapter 550, the chapter that deals with the pari-mutuels. But we worked with Matt to attempt to put our new medication language on an agriculture bill, but that too failed.
Before I go into more detail let me tell you who “we” is. It’s the FHBPA, the FTBOA (Florida Breeders) and the Florida Division of the AQHA along with several race tracks. What “we” did was agree to adopt the 26 Controlled Therapeutic Medications and the ARCI Penalty Schedule. We never really discussed the MVVs. We agreed to drop our race day medication besides Lasix which is prednisolone sodium succinate (Solu-Delta Cortef) and to drop the use of Thin Layer Chromatography, TLC, as a drug testing methodology.
What we asked for and got, and what I have been asking for more than a year, is a good faith effort to develop screening levels for those other 25 or so medications we were promised to have thresholds on as recently as three or four years ago by the RMTC. If every state adopted these screening levels, then this would create real uniformity rather than having all states keep any other thresholds they might have beyond the “Terrific 26” Controlled Therapeutic Medications as has been apparently agreed to by the powers that be.
It is really important to us in Florida to have these screening levels, because our Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, DPMW, believes all testing should be to “zero tolerance” if there is no adopted threshold on the books. As recently as last year, the DPMW dropped the 25 pg/ml threshold in Florida and went to zero tolerance on Clenbuterol, not bothering to tell the horsemen and veterinarians. This led to well over a hundred of what I call, “Gotcha” positives (below 25 pg/ml) for which innocent horsemen are now paying fines.
I’m not sure that calling names, attempting to circumvent the horsemen in rule making or drawing lines in the sand with drop dead dates for forced adoption of the Controlled Therapeutic Medications and Multiple Medication Violations does anyone any good. Once someone actually wanted to talk to the horsemen progress was immediately made. I’m pretty sure once we see those screening levels become reality then it becomes easier to look at adopting the MMVs.
Lastly, I don’t think we are, or have ever been, obstructionists in Florida, but while some strange things (pari-mutuel barrel racing) and beliefs (zero tolerance) come out of our state regulatory body, we have been conducting the safest racing in the country as our good friends at the NYT will attest too. We’d like to keep it that way.