Uniformity: A Prescription for ReformDr. Scott Palmer - Chairman, AAEP Racing Committee
Stuart S. Janney III: I’d like to now introduce a gentleman that we have heard a great deal from in our deliberations. At last year’s Round Table, you heard from several such individuals who have made presentations or shared insights with the Safety Committee. We thought it would be interesting for you to hear from some of those we’ve met with recently.
Dr. Scott Palmer will provide us with some view from his organization, the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Dr. Palmer has earned international recognition for his studies in equine sports injuries. He is the hospital director and a staff surgeon at the New Jersey Equine Clinic, where he has practiced for 33 years. He is also a recent past president of the AAEP and currently chairs its Racing Committee.
We’re grateful to have Dr. Palmer here with us today.
Dr. Scott Palmer: Thank you, Stuart, and good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you this morning on the subject of medication.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners was founded 55 years ago by 11 racetrack veterinarians. The AAEP’s horse racing origins provide a unique understanding of the health and welfare needs of the racehorse. The AAEP has grown to nearly 10,000 veterinarians and veterinary students in 58 countries around the world. Our members work with all equine breeds and disciplines, and this diversity helps the AAEP provide resources and leadership for the benefit of the entire equine industry.
As an organization, our mission is simple: to protect the health and welfare of the horse and to further the professional development of veterinarians around the world.
Last December the AAEP released a white paper to provide a veterinary viewpoint to the Thoroughbred racing industry to address a wide range of issues that have became the focus of national attention in the wake of a series of high-profile injuries on the world stage of racing. This white paper focused on four areas of importance: societal issues that affect racing, the business model of racing, the veterinarian-trainer-owner relationship, and medication.
The problems of racing in America are far reaching and involve many factors beyond medication. However, there can be no question that we do have a medication problem. And transparency in the are of the veterinarian-trainer-owner relationship is of particular importance as we go forward.
On the subject of Salix, or furosemide: Most racehorses experience some degree of exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhaging when they train and race at high speeds. Scientific studies, as you heard earlier, have conclusively proven that Salix is effective in reducing the severity and prevalence of exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage in racing horses. Therefore, if you are going to race a horse that experiences exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage, it is in the best interest of the health and the welfare of that horse to treat with Salix. Our AAEP white paper takes a clear stand that no medication should be administered on race day except for Salix.
On the subject of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication: As you heard earlier, regulatory veterinarians have expressed concern that the administration of NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, within 24 hours of their pre-race examinations may compromise their ability to properly evaluate those horses for soundness. We recognize that a quality pre-race examinations is one of our best tools for helping to prevent catastrophic injury. If testing of horses at the time of these examinations reveals therapeutic levels of the drugs, then we may need to move the administration of NSAIDs back to minimize that effect.
However, in terms of medication’s impact upon the sport of racing, these two issues pale in comparison with the fact that our current medication policy is broken and is undermining the very credibility of our sport. Our medication policy should accomplish the following: First and foremost, it should protect the health and welfare of the horse. Secondly, it should ensure a level playing field and promote the integrity of racing. It should be uniform and it should inspire the trust of the public. Finally, it should operate efficiently and in accordance with the principles of due process.
Instead, our current medication policy, however well-meaning, is compromised by its lack of uniform policy and financial support in multiple racing jurisdictions. It is a mockery of discipline and security. It is undermining the integrity of the sport and the public perception that racing authorities either have their heads in the sand or think that this problem is not significant enough to make a meaningful change.
Change is often a very uncomfortable experience. And resistance to change is usually rooted in a perception that change equals loss, either in terms of power or money. In order to overcome resistance to change, effective leaders must provide a vision for the future that inspires us to make change, or the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo must reach a threshold to force change. In either or both cases, there needs to be a reasonable plan or “first steps” provided in order to show the way to the future.
Right now we have a unique opportunity. We are faced with a choice. We can choose to support the status quo. And how is that working out for us? Or we can choose to create a medication policy that actually works to inspire confidence and integrity in our sport.
We have all heard the cynics. They say that nothing will change. They say that uniformity of medication rules and a meaningful penalty structure that will stop the cheating will never happen. Individual racing jurisdictions pick and choose what model rules they want to enforce while regulators in some jurisdictions rush to claim the “high ground” and enact their own vision of medication reform. The cynics say we will never get it right. I respectfully disagree.
Consider the following first steps: The American Association of Equine Practitioner’s white paper on Thoroughbred racing has challenged the status quo by enthusiastically endorsing the uniform adoption of ARCI model rules for medication and a uniform, significant penalty structure that erases the concept that positive tests are simply a cost of doing business. The AAEP is now reviewing a “best practice” document for racetrack practitioners that sets a clear standard for medication practice at American racetracks. It supports veterinarians who are making good decisions on the backstretch for the welfare of the horse and the benefit of our sport. Veterinarians have taken a clear and unequivocal stance on the side of medication reform.
In spite of our best efforts, we, as an industry, have failed to accomplish the goal of uniform medication policy among our 38 racing jurisdictions. The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has accomplished a great deal in moving us toward uniform medication policy since its inception in 2001. The recent anabolic steroid policy is a success that we should all celebrate. However, all politics is local and we need to work at the state level in order to make this goal a reality. Short of federal legislation, the best chance that we have to achieve a uniform medication policy in the United States is for our industry to get behind the adoption of an interstate racing compact.
The Jockey Club and the Association of Racing Commissioners International have both endorsed creation of an interstate compact for racing. An interstate compact is a compact between states. It provides an opportunity to create uniform rules and standards, as well as a unified voice and authority. States will retain their sovereignty over all issues outside the contract. An interstate racing compact will encourage cooperative behavior without the cost or the bureaucracy of federal intervention.
The time for extended diplomacy is over. The sport that we love is dying and we cannot afford protracted delay. To the extent that medication reform can help save our industry, we must act now with deliberate speed and conviction. The Jockey Club, supported by owners, breeders, trainers and veterinarians, has the ability to encourage horsemen in all racing jurisdictions in the United States to work toward state adoption of a racing compact that will include uniform ARCI model rules and penalties. Participation in an interstate compact is a voluntary act by individual states. It will require each state racing commission to cede some authority to the interstate compact, but they will retain the ability to regulate the sport in their own jurisdiction. This is a very small price to pay for the benefits of a national uniform medication policy.
I realize that there are a number of details to be worked out to make this goal a reality. There will be thorns among the rose bushes. But I ask you again, how is the status quo working out for us? Hasn’t the level of dissatisfaction become great enough to inspire decisive action? What more will it take to get us to take responsibility and be accountable for this needed reform?
This is our moment. Now is our opportunity to choose to make landmark reform of our medication policy. The American Association of Equine Practitioners is here to help the Thoroughbred racing industry accomplish meaningful medication reform. We can provide the science. We can provide the professional leadership. The vision is clear: together we can create a medication policy that will help to lead our beloved industry into a bright new era. Here is the first step: as a united industry we must use the political tools at our disposal to create an interstate compact that will include a powerful uniform medication policy in the United States. Success is a choice. Ladies and gentlemen, what would you like to do?
Thank you very much.
Stuart S. Janney III: Thank you, Scott. We are grateful for the insight we’ve received from many of the AAEP members since this committee was formed, and we look forward to their views going forward.