Leaders Call To Phase Out Drugs

Published: March 28, 2011 03:37 pm EDT

"A five-year phase out is reasonable to bring North American racing policies in line with what is going on in other parts of the world like Europe and

Hong Kong,” said Outgoing RCI Chair Dan Hartman as both he and his successor challenged the racing industry and member regulators to embrace a strategy to phase out drugs and medication in thoroughbred and harness racing.

Hartman, of the Colorado Racing Commission, said that a phased approach would give horsemen and owners sufficient time to adjust to the change. RCI’s new Chair, William Koester, the Chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, said, “Today over 99 per cent of Thoroughbred racehorses and 70 per cent of Standardbred racehorses have a needle stuck in them 4 hours before a race. That just does not pass the smell test with the public or anyone else except horse trainers who think it necessary to win a race. I'm sure the decision makers at the time meant well when these drugs were permitted, however this decision has forced our jurisdictions to juggle threshold levels as horseman become more desperate to win races and has given horse racing a black eye.”

These comments mark a major departure from regulatory policy that has been based on allowing traces of medication and a move toward enacting a policy of zero tolerance.

RCI President Ed Martin said the membership gathering in New Orleans last week was largely receptive to a major overhaul of medication policies.

Koester noted that “change is inevitable” and called for the association “to take the moral high ground and implement drug rules that mirror the racing in Australia, Dubai, Europe, Hong Kong, and even Russia.”

“If you follow horse racing, you probably heard of the names Well Armed, Curlin, Invasor, Roses in May, Pleasantly Perfect, Captain Steve, Silver Charm. and Cigar. Eight of the last sixteen winners of the Dubai Cup were from North America and ran drug free. It can be done,” Koester said.

In recent years RCI has based its medication policies largely on recommendations from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC). A shift toward “zero tolerance” would mark a departure from that practice and a major change for trainers.

Hartman concluded his remarks by telling the RCI members, “we regulators are the only voice in racing for the animals and betting public. It’s time we raise the bar in service to both.”




This is a really complicated and polarizing topic.First off, why do we have to emulate Europe?Second, why do we treat horses differently than human athletes?How many NFL players take an ibuprofen before the game?(and don't tell me there's no betting on football).

As an equine vet, breeder and owner, I'm all about having happy, healthy horses.Horses, maybe more than people, have allergy and respiratory issues,which is a predisposing factor to bleeding. Should we not treat them?The powers that be declare we just turn them into pleasure horses?As an owner this is not an option.We should be doing everything we can to get AND RETAIN the few owners left.This is not Hong Kong where the minimum purse is $200,000 and bleeders are EUTHANIZED.

What we need are universal rules, fines, and suspensions everywhere in North America.The drug companies already establish therapeutic levels when their products come on the market;it should be pretty straight-forward to set levels for racing. Forget Europe unless you're planning on racing in the Elitlopp.Thoroughbreds travel there more, but they're doped more,too, and need to clean up their sport the same as we do. You can get a vet to give your runner a shot on the way to the paddock in a lot of states There should be none of this give the test results to WEG and let them decide what the punishment is(like retention).

Test results should go to the ORC and the big guys should be treated the same as the little guys.(Was it Takter who got caught doping his horse in the retention barn for a $500,000 trot on a horse he co-owned with a WEG employee and was given a 3 day suspension so he could race in and win the final?)We shouldn't put up with preferential treatment of the players, nor men with no hands on experience with racing dictating policies.

If lasix isn't available, people will use illegal stuff. They already do because $65 is too much.Go after the drug dealers and vets compounding and supplying the trainers using performance enhancing drugs. How can the ORC with 60 investigators not have a clue who to go after? Add the New Jersey Racing Comm. to that list.Take out a few of these guys and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Jail, not fines.The people who want to race on hay and oats are always out there and mean well, but can't this be done right where we treat horses for what ails them and race on a limited number of legal, controlled drugs?

There was an artical written Dec. 3 2010 on this web site about Lasix and I believe we even had a vet weigh in on it. I 100% agree therapeutic drugs, within reason, help our equine atheletes like we take Tylenol or Advil. Lasix is not such a drug, there are far more effective drugs for bleeding which actually work, unfortunately they are not being used by the ORC, not even given a choice. I also agree with some of Mr. MacDonald's insight on bleeders, once they start they are hard to stop and there are a lot of contributing factors, great insight sir.

The drugs people are worried about are the undetectables, article on this web site Nov. 4 2010, nobody can keep up to test for them and they hurt horses, period. How do you test for these to get zero tolerance? Lasix appears to be a legal cover drug period, lose it. Those of you who care and rely on this business, stop using the crap, blow the whistle, you are only putting youeself and other people out of business. Never happen, this is why there will be no zero tolerance, no one knows how to acheive it, anywhere.

Would it be easier to draw a blood on a weanling and create a profile and then when it starts racing if the profile changes just call it a positive and be done with it even if you don't know what the substance is? I don't think anyone would be foolish enough to pre race a baby to fudge the test would they? If it worked it would save a lot of time and money. Just looking to be informed.

Greg Parke

In reply to by Greg

The only way to achieve zero tolerance is to have the horses quarantined 48 hours before a competition. In Dubai the barns are monitered 24-7 by surveillance cameras and you could see them on the internet.

In Europe they may be zero tolerance but they still get their share of positives. Like the previous polster it is not the therapeutic drugs that are a problem but the X factor ones.

It took several years to find out that EPO was beeing used and another several to develop a test for it.
Increased funding for the development of testing, more out of competition testing and RAIDS and finally increased penalty's to discourage doping. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that some people out there do have and are using an X factor.

It seems that our industry does a lot of tough talk but never does the walk.

Anthony MacDonald, you are wrong about a miniscule % racing without Lasix. There is no Lasix in Dubai,England and France either, and there are a lot of SB's in France who, I believe, race without. What about Sweden etc? I don't know what they are allowed to race on. I was told once that every horse bleeds a little when they race so when your horse wins and you don't scope, then you won't know will you. Trainers normally scope when their horses don't race well and lo and behold there is a little blood which was not noticable without scoping. If horses in Europe can race without, then the same should apply here.

In reply to by jfarrow

Judy, I never said a minuscule amount race without lasix, I own 4 horses and none are on lasix.

I can't comment on European horses,as I have never been there but here in canada i myself at one time was in charge of upwards of 65-70 horses at one time, I am well aware of the amount of horses in general that bleed. The problem here is that it seems people who have little practical experience in this game or would rather Reminisce on the "good ol' days" of the 60's and 70's who are the "driving force" behind where our beloved game is heading? On one hand we have the gambling side of our game which is in peril and it seems we need someone to step up with some sort of spell that with get the "whale" or big money gamblers back on our side,and then we have the other side which is also important but I'm so sick of people equating therapeutic drugs like "lasix" with the other drugs that no one is implying don't exist or aren't in use.

I am frustrated as a 34 year old father who has been in this game for over 20 years. its all I do and, all I know, i make living as a owner,trainer, and driver and the fact that the majority of our press these days are spent on people saying ridiculous things like "zero tolerance" when they have very little hands on knowledge or vested interest as myself or many of my colleagues. Unfortunately like many of us it takes someone putting a "bee in my bonnet" to speak out, I should and you should to. The uninformed have spoken for us long enough, you know who I'm talking about! The intelligent, honest people who not only care but rely on this business to pay our mortgages, phone bills and children's schooling. Enough is enough, people have applauded me for speaking out, people I look up to, and are lucky to call friends this is a call to you to speak out also and start to put the proper peoples voices and faces in places they need to be.

Anthony macdonald

You think having a "zero tolerance" policy means horses are going to be drug free? Not a chance! Iv worked for two of the largest stables in Australia, they are far from drug free. All this would do is increase the gap even further between large guys and small guys. The drugs we need to be going after are not the legal drugs accepted at safe levels, it’s the undetected drugs. There will always be drugs that are undetected but only the large guys can afford/ access them. Of course these drugs come from illegal compounders who do not have regulations for there product, or testing to see if there are harmful effects. Your just going to put pharmaceutical company’s out of business who have done research for years to make sure these products are a safe option for our horse. Just doesn’t make sense to me

Why dont they just administer soda to the horses on race day. Last time i checked you could by it at the grocery store. It's a aid for tying up and bleeding. And the vets wont like it but it costs a dollar. This sport is a discrace if you have millions you can hire a chemist to stay on top of the testing if your trying to make a living honest you will be out of the business.

hmmm its a rich mans sport im glad its a hobby for me. Honestly there isnt a trainer out there that can drop 3 or 4 seconds off every horse. But it happens daily - these are the heros - give me a break. you can fool some people sometimes but you can fool all the people all the time.

How about you go ahead with this as long as it does not include therapeutic drugs such as lasix, banamine, robaxin, etc. The penelty for someone caught milkshaking a horse is what two months??? The trainer only has a 20 percent chance of being tested and who knows what percentage of that will come up positive even if it was adminstered, the ORC gives drivers 10 plus years for cheating but If a trainer does he gets a slap on the wrist, horses just move to a differnt stable and alot of the time the actual suspeded horse will go to the states and race while on suspension in Ontario And face no consequences.

Isn't drugging a horse up fixing a race? Yet it's only the drivers who get the 10 plus years as it seems to be if you cheat to win it's ok, I guess there should be a rule in place that if your horses haven't had a questionable test in the last 2 years you should be fined 10 years for not trying

Horses have experienced bleeding (exercise induced pulmonary edema) during vigorous exercise as long as horses have been on earth. If you can read Latin Julius Caesar gives remedies for this in his chronicles of the Gallic wars. A harness horse today can be ruled ineligible if after he comes off the track the state vet sees a small amount of blood coming from his nose. He is suspended for a short amount of time then can race again on lasix. We have imported hundreds of harness horses from New Zealand. There lasix is illegal. If your fifty thousand or two hundred and fifty thousand dollar horse bleeds in a race in the afternoon they become a pet of very little value that night. That's a chilling thought for any owner. Probably about 50 of the horses we bought from New Zealand were chronic bleeders who were banned from racing in New Zealand because of bleeding. Not one of those horses had problems bleeding with lasic here in North America. The New Zealand owners were saved from a catastrophic loss of value in their horse because they could sell to a place where lasix was legal. They could survive another day and buy another horse and stay in the business and keep helping to pay the salaries of a lot of people.

Now suppose lasix was banned throughout North America and you were advising someone about owning a racehorse. You would tell them that a horse has a chance of going lame every time he steps out of his stall ( or even in his stall ). They might accept that as a risk of doing business. You would tell them that unlike a cow who can eat barbed wire and is darn hard to kill, a horse can go from healthy to near death in four hours even if you do everything right. They might accept that. Then tell them that if the horse bleeds one drop of blood after a race the horse is then worthless in spite of the fact that there is a safe effective and inexpensive way of dealing with this but the substance was banned because of a well meaning but shortsighted desire to boast that the sport is totally drug free. The prospective owner is going to have a hard time accepting that. The old guys who bought a lot of horses are dying fast and one of the most serious problems in our business is finding new owners.

Banning lasix makes the risk of owning horses exponentially more risky and finding owners willing to accept this risk far more difficult. Hang anyone who uses epo, it's a cruel nasty thing to do to a horse. Suspend anyone who races horses on pain killers. It's a mean thing to do to a horse and anyway racing a injured horse on pain killers is a bad business decision for your stable in the long run. We have to respect the horses or the fans will not respect us. But lasix is a much more complicated situation and we have to be smart what we wish for or we will damage the sport instead of helping it.

Joseph Glenn Muscara

Healthier equine athletes = improvement of training skills required and what about the involvement of the equine vets...

Contrary to human athletes who have the privilege to say yes/no to their trainers, doctors and chemists and deal with the ongoing health issues associated with a yes... horses are vulnerable beings who do not have a choice and are discarded once the drugs are not enough!... They are always at the mercy of their trainers, doctors and chemists!...

Yes... it's about time that they have a voice, however the most sophisticated testing can barely keep up with the chemistry involving human cheaters, so I wonder what would be the plan for horse racing???...

I see at most tracks that close to 80% are on Lasix, how can today's trainers, breeders, and even more so the equine vets think that this is normal and are not addressing the real problem?

As someone who love horses and was raised in the racing world by a father who trained and drove horses with respect, my question for the equine vets is: was your oath to protect the horses and ensure that they have a long and healthy life or to administer whatever the trainers,owners, guardians,etc... ask for??? I'm just curious and I realize as I write this comment that I've never asked my vets!

In my humble opinion, keeping an equine athlete fit may at times require more that proper feeding and training regimens and I've learned enough to know that there are times when the professional skills of equine vets are an absolute must to solve all sorts of health problems, but is it really what is going on these days???

Tim Robinson SAID...
I would have the same concerns as Louie, if you can't detect what is out there now, how will you then?

test for molecular weight ....if there is true zero tolerance, then any substance that didn't belong would register immediately without the need for further testing to identify the foreign substance as is required now.

louie eftimiadis SAID...
I've read all the comments before me and all this zero tolerance is crap. It's not drugs like lasix or bute

I hate to break the news to you but bute and lasix CAN be used to help cover for other drugs................

anthony macdonald SAID...
is this "needle" that mr. hartman referring to lasix???
i assume so? (99% of thoroughbreds receive?)


you assume wrong..............unless things have changed on the backstretch in the last week or so, the busiest people on the evening prior to and the morning of racedays are the vets. Busier than a one armed paper hanger.

Here we go again, another seriously flawed policy on medication. There isn't a professional human or equine athlete alive that hasn't benefited from the use of therapeutic treatments or medications. A few micrograms of bute or robaxin given to a horse 48 or 72 hours out has virtually no affect on the outcome of a race. Its therapy to keep the horse or human comfortable to be able to compete in extreme conditions. It doesn't mean they're lame or unsound. Its just normal wear and tear within the rigors of any sporting event. These are considered minor sprains and strains,muscle aches or other things such as treating allergies etc. Stuff any living being deals with daily.
Would it be right to deny an allergic horse a medication(one that has no performance enhancing effect such as advair) to control its allergies at 24 hrs? Or would it be better to have it race full of mucus. Which is more humane? To not have this available is not only stupid but irrational. Its not possible in the real world week in and week out in any professional sport. Horses today are treated infinitely better with a way more knowledgeable trainer than in the past. Its obvious that real problem is the performance enhancing drugs. They have the most detrimental effects on horses,racing and betting customers. This is where we need to focus our attention and money. P.S. To those who think that it was different in the good old days, its time to take your rose coloured glasses off. The number of drug tested, and the quality of testing pales in comparison to today. Cheating in those days was in fact far easier.

Well i don't know and have never met Mr.Eftimiadis but the powers to be in the race game wether it be boards of directors, racetrack management, the orc, the cpma and anybody else connected with the race game needs to read the last 3 sentences of his post over and over and over again until it sinks in.

I don't know and have never met Mr. Tim Robinson. I do know that his comments have been mirrored by many trainers. Those who are unable to afford or unwilling to pay the $600. to $1000. to "pre race" their horses can't compete to say nothin of the bettors who have no idea who or when!!

I've read all the comments before me and all this zero tolerance is crap. It's not drugs like lasix or bute or so called legal drugs that have betters talking about it's all the drugs like EPO or other forms of the drugs or even drugs that can't get detected with urine samples that upsets them. Drugs like lasix and bute and other legal therapeutic drugs are not the problem doctors give them to humans if they think it will help.If they want to help the industry grow then we must give big and pricey suspensions to the horsemen that the break rules that exist. Longer terms or even lifetime bans for breaking the rules that exist will help, so horsemen and vets might think twice before administering them. And above and beyond that the lowering of the takeout on betting would increase the handle more then anything.The handle did not increase when the new whipping rule came into effect but the guaranteed pools in the woodbine pick 4's did. Gamblers want something for their money like the ability to make more money, plain and simple.

In reply to by lou_eft

I would have the same concerns as Louie, if you can't detect what is out there now, how will you then? I hope detection becomes more enhanced to cover What is not showing up now. Good luck to people who want this industry to thrive and actually love horses not just racing and winning at all costs. I love competition as much as anyone but racing should be about the Horse and Driver not chemists.

The commment on betting handle is the concern I have with the future of Racing. To stand on it's own changes in attracting bettors have to be made. The argument that costs, such as paying Track workers is an issue with the % is not how I see it. If you have 3000 people in the stands at 5% return or 1000 people at 15% return you still need the same Track working crew. Why wouldn't you want full Grandstands ,not to mention higher concession sales etc.

If you go on thinking the bettors don't notice how much you take out then good luck with your resume and in your next chosen profession.

In reply to by Dillersdemon


In reply to by Tom

Tom They have a random one or two horse blood test every race , just before the horses leave the paddock. If there are performance drugs being used they are obviously not showing in this particular test.

kevin seiver does not take pills when he has a headache. if mr. newbigging has to give his horses painkillers to race, he should leave them in the barn, and then take his head out of the sand. sam taylor

If this becomes reality , and the purses remain stable I would be back in the business the next day. Drug free racing what a concept , a large percentage of my Wins came that way so , bring it on... I was not able to compete in the pre race dept, but i'll put my training and driving straight up against anyone....

Firstly, it is possible to race horses safely without medication as it is done so in every jurisdiction in the world. I totally agree that we do not need to wait five years but that it should happen ASAP. As far as using medication to keep horses pain free that is nonsense. Why should horses have to have medication to race? They should be pain free naturally (i.e sound horses) or have pain that they manage on their own because it is minor. This idea of being medication free would bring many owners and fans alike back to our sport because it creates an even playing field where good horsemanship and good breeding counts.

Great idea! What about those poor track vets; won't they be in finacial trouble?

Anthony, How was it that horses were able to race years ago without lasix? They did it based on good horsemanship, proper nutrition and good care. Perhaps they didn't go as fast. So what!! I'm guessing that there was less lameness and respiratory problems then than there are now. I'm also guessing that the two major culprits are drugs and catch drivers.

In reply to by murray

Well mr brown, I'm going to say you are partly correct. I believe speed is a huge factor, Im fairly certain blaming "catch drivers" is lunacy, being one i take offence. Last i checked anyone can drive,the ability to drive good,very good,or mediocre in my case is anyones right. Driving a horse to the full potential it has to offer is our job. And a poor driver does not make a healthy horse. I myself had a trotter bleed when he reached 215....I stopped with him and brought him back and he did the same thing.

Funny thing is, his brothers did the same thing???? what I'm saying is "genetics" plays a bigger role than a man in a bike ever will sir. The evolution of horses, the way they are bred...thats the problem, I'll take Charles Darwin over Tetric on this one.

If a horse has enough pain to race on painkillers ....should it be racing?

I have read articles on lasix and some of them have suggested that it is quite hard on the horse and not all that effective, some articles have even suggested that it is used to help mask other drugs, heaven forbid that someone would even suggest that trainers would resort to this. Lets try this, lets take the horses off lasix and give it instead to the trainers and drivers who are all for it and see how they like it. If they are then okay and there is not to many side effects then we will know it is safe to give to our four legged friends.

As an owner I have always had the well being of the horse in mind first and foremost and quite often this includes using legal medications to keep the horse pain free. If these medications are to be banned then we should probably quit racing altogether because then we will be considered as being inhumane because we race a horse in pain

Zero tolerance! What a great idea and its about time. Level playing field for all and throw the book at those that don't comply. Real horses and real horsemanship and healthier happier horses. If the t-breds can do it with all the lasix users, then it should be no problem for harness racing. 5 years is too long; the game needs it sooner than this.

Wonderful ! How about no headpoles, seems to me they don't race with much equipment over there. I mean if they are having success lets try it too!

Zero tolerance tomorrow is great. Enforcement must be absolute. None of the old,"we're all equal,just some are more equal than others". While we're at it, any chance we could dump conditioned racing for classified racing?

A step in the right direction but Be Careful. A change to zero tolerance may cause shortages in the the entry box and the overall quality of racing. 5 years may be on the long end but tomorow would cripple the quality of racing we enjoy.

Maybe Mr Macdonald would lke to tell us how us "uninformed" can tell when his or any other trainers horses have been"treated"??

I can hear a collective "about time!" being stated by all horseplayers across North America. Five years seems like an awfully long time, though.

What a brilliant idea! Why not make it 12 months instead of five years? In five years, there may not be anyone left to watch, bet on, or even race horses, but if this is brought into effect and promoted starting immediately, we may have a chance of bringing in new owners and cleaning up the mess that has been allowed to go virtually unchecked the last few years. Why give the abusers so much time to clean up their acts?

Zero tolerance thats the best think ive heard in the 20 years ive been in the industry but why do we need a 5 year adjustment period why not ASAP.
Itd be far easier for the horsemen to adjust to zero tolerance today so there is no confusion of what is and isnt legal but we have to let the cheater adjust to the level playing field!!!

In reply to by ksiever

is this "needle" that mr. hartman referring to lasix???
i assume so? (99% of thoroughbreds receive?)
it would be great to stop all horses from bleeding in the next five years,it would need to be some sort of "medication" to do so i would assume.....as a trainer and a driver i find it irritating that once again all horsemen get grouped together. do we have drugs in our game...yes, and closer to zero tolerance would be preferred by most people in our game, medications are used to treat ailments, these are athletes and it would be impossible to race them healthy and safely without some medications and lasix is absolutely one of such medications.

In reply to by anthony macdonald

Anthony, if horses were not made to start jogging and training before they are 2 yrs. of age, and then not pushed so hard as they are now, there would be no problem with bleeding. If there was still a slight trace, there are some herbal breathing supplements which if given at an early age would certainly help. I say Lasix should be banned completely. If a horse can't compete because of bleeding, he should be a pleasure horse only, or at least racing in a much lower class.

In reply to by paddock

Well Pat, I've seen many horses bleed for many reasons. To "map" out a fool proof way to prevent this problem sounds great....ridiculous but great.

There are thousands of reason why a horse bleeds and even "trace "amounts compound to a potential significant problem down the road. Age is merely one factor, and there is nothing to suggest that is a major contributing factor. also "herbal" medications as you put it are still "medications" and zero tolerance in its literal form is just that, "zero tolerance".

In closing I think lasix isnt a bandaid its a cast so to speak,a necessity that our business and most importantly our horses shouldnt have to do without because a miniscule percentage of horses in Dubai can function without it.

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