Dr. Rick Arthur: Alan Foreman is up next. Alan will be discussing the Drug Testing Initiative racing laboratory accreditation proficiency program. This is an exciting step forward for horse racing, and it is coming together very nicely.
Alan will give us the long version; let me give you the short one: without the highest quality laboratories we are wasting our time on everything else.
Thank you for your attention.
Alan Foreman: Thank you, Rick. Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Good morning to all of you.
I need not remind you of where we were as an industry just two years ago at this time, but it is necessary for a perspective. We had been forced to take a hard look at ourselves, and our sport, as never before. It was a difficult period of self-examination and introspection. To me, and I'm sure you, most troubling were the results of national polling about perceptions of our sport from casual fans of horseracing, our core fans and our own participants. The results showed that across all lines, our sport was perceived as being consumed with, and compromised by, the illicit use of performance enhancing drugs. Indeed, the polling experts told us that this was a potentially irreversible situation if we did not react quickly to address it.
It was under this cloud that I was invited to participate in the 2008 Round Table and speak to the state of drug testing in our sport.
The premise of my presentation, you may recall, was that if we wanted to reverse the negative perceptions about the use of drugs and medications in our sport, illicit or otherwise, and reverse the perception that we had a doping problem, we had to fundamentally address our archaic and dysfunctional drug testing system. After all, drug testing is the hub of the system that is supposed to protect our sport’s integrity. It is designed to catch and deter the cheaters. It is our first and main line of defense.
Notwithstanding all the exciting things we saw happening in our business in the first segment of this program, if we cannot demonstrate that our sport is clean and fair, we will have no sport. We've known for 30 years that our drug testing system needed fixing and we did little to fix it. There has been a lot of talk, but no action. We have been unable to explain or justify the lack of uniformity in our testing; why a drug is positive in one lab and not another; why some labs test more samples and for more drugs than do others; why our laboratories’ decision levels are not uniform; why one laboratory tests urine samples and another tests blood samples; what zero tolerance means, if anything, and is it uniformly applied; what the difference is between controlled therapeutic medications and drugs that have no business in a racehorse under any circumstance and whether there is any reason to differentiate between them. I could go on and on. Not only can we not answer these questions when asked, we cannot give a coherent explanation for our lack of consistency and testing uniformity.
Every aspect of the medication issue flows from our drug testing system. As I said here two years ago, and maintain today, if we can restructure and improve our drug testing into a single coherent and understandable system, we can solve most of our medication issues and reverse the negative perceptions about the integrity of our sport as they relate to doping.
So I made a series of recommendations on how we could address these issues head-on.
And I also said this: If we are truly committed to restructuring our drug testing system, then we need to let it be designed by our scientists, who know what needs to be done to fix our system, not horsemen, regulators, breeders, track operators, or the federal government, and we must address these issues now for the sake of our sport.
Several days after the Round Table, Alan Marzelli called me. He wanted to know how we could best move forward to implement the recommendations, and he offered The Jockey Club's support and resources, both financial and otherwise. I told him to get Rick Arthur and Scot Waterman on the phone, and we talked strategy. We decided to invite a group of our pre-eminent scientists and advisors, a dream team if you will, including some who have not historically collaborated with each other, to a meeting in Chicago to discuss the Round Table recommendations and the state of our drug testing. They are all internationally recognized experts and researchers in either equine drug testing, toxicology, pharmacology or human drug testing. Dr. George Maylin, Dr. Larry Soma, Dr. Rick Sams, Dr. Don Catlin, Dr. Walter Hyde, Dr. Scott Stanley. They all said yes. We told them, in no uncertain terms, that we wanted them to design for us the ideal drug testing system from the perspective of the scientific community, irrespective of political or funding concerns, and then let those of us who are the non-scientists figure out how to implement and pay for it. We named our group the Drug Testing Initiatives Committee or DTI — another acronym for racing. We met non-stop for two days and concluded by establishing five ambitious recommendations that mirrored, but enhanced, the recommendations made at the 2008 Round Table. They were:
- Development of laboratory standards and accreditation criteria comparable to the World Anti-Doping Agency's Code for laboratories.
- Consolidation and expansion of our current quality assurance and laboratory proficiency programs into a single external, independently monitored program.
- Development of a business plan for the infrastructure of U.S. drug testing, including industry-sponsored research and reference equine drug testing laboratories.
- Establishment of a post-doctoral and graduate student recruitment program for drug testing research and laboratory staff development.
- Review of current sample collection strategies, including long-term storage of frozen samples.
And the scientists then asked us: Do you think the industry is really serious about enacting and funding these reforms and do you believe they understand its urgency?
Well, here I am once again. It’s been two years. Have we once again as an industry “talked the talk,” but not “walked the walk” or have we seized the moment and taken the necessary steps for our future. Let's take a look at each of the recommendations, and I'll let you decide.
Laboratory accreditation is a formal recognition by an independent third party of a laboratory's capability and competency to perform testing, measurement and calibration activities. It covers every aspect of a laboratory's performance and is designed to ensure the accuracy, precision, and the reliability of the data generated. There is an international accreditation standard for laboratories that conduct any type of drug testing, forensic or otherwise, called ISO 17025. All of our drug testing counterparts in Europe and Asia are accredited to ISO 17025. In U.S. racing, we have no requirement that our laboratories be accredited, although several of our labs on their own, and to their credit, have been accredited to ISO 17025. The DTI determined that all laboratories conducting drug testing for racing in this country must, at a minimum, become accredited to ISO 17025.
But there can and should be more. In addition to ISO 17025, testing for human athletes, such as the Olympic Games, is conducted according to the World Anti-Doping Agency's Code for Laboratories, the WADA Code, which sets forth more specific technical standards for human drug testing laboratories than is required under ISO 17025. The DTI determined that we needed a similar, more specific and stringent code of standards for our racing industry, which could be based largely on the work done by WADA. Establishment of our own code allows us to achieve testing uniformity by setting the standards and benchmarks necessary for testing by our laboratories, including such things as minimum testing requirements, increased and more comprehensive testing, required technologies, uniform decision levels, and more. Adoption of standards creates the mechanism for uniformity in drug testing, quality assurance and proficiency, research and collaboration.
To make this a reality for U.S. racing, the DTI drafted such a code for U.S. racing laboratories, called the RMTC Accreditation Standards, and it has been adopted by the RMTC. The DTI believes that every laboratory conducting drug testing for racing in this country should be required to become accredited, not just to ISO 17025, but more importantly, to the RMTC Accreditation Standards. They are tough, stringent and absolutely necessary for the future of our sport. The development and adoption of these standards and implementation of the accreditation process by a third party retained by the RMTC is an unprecedented step for our industry and represents the most significant step toward improved testing and uniformity in drug testing in our history. In this regard, I am pleased to announce today that five of our pre-eminent testing programs,
- New York Equine Drug Testing and Research Program at Morrisville College, which tests New York racing
- Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory – University of California- Davis, which tests California racing
- Pennsylvania Equine Testing and Research Laboratory, which tests Pennsylvania racing
- HFL Sports Science Laboratory, which will begin testing Kentucky racing in 2011
- Dalare Associates, which tests West Virginia and Delaware racing
all have signed letters of intent with the RMTC to become accredited to the RMTC Accreditation Standards no later than December 31, 2011. They will begin this accreditation process shortly. Significantly, the racing tested by just these five laboratories alone comprises more than 60% of the daily national handle and approximately 50% of purses.
Accreditation of these laboratories will hasten the much-needed uniformity and collaboration that we have always envisioned, but never achieved. These laboratories are simply taking the lead in this effort and we applaud them for it. We encourage all of the laboratories who perform drug testing for racing in this country to commit to accreditation to the RMTC Standards. These standards are so important that at a minimum, beginning in 2012, we should not allow drug testing of our Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup and graded stakes races to be performed at any laboratory not accredited to the RMTC Standards. Indeed, for the sake of our sport, each and every one of you should demand that the drug testing for all of our races, regardless of when and where, be tested by a laboratory accredited to the RMTC accreditation standards. Our regulators need to take the necessary steps in their contracts for testing services to require that the laboratory they engage be accredited to the RMTC Standards. For those who say we could never get this done because there was no way to pay for it, let me tell you about leadership by example. The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the owners and trainers who race in New York, is providing the funds necessary for New York's new laboratory to become accredited to the RMTC Standards, and The Jockey Club, demonstrating its ongoing commitment to this effort, will provide financial assistance to any laboratory seeking RMTC accreditation.
It is one thing to achieve accredited status. It then becomes important to ensure that the laboratory is able, on a continuing basis, to accurately detect drugs at concentrations relevant to our sport and with results that are correct. This is accomplished through quality assurance and proficiency testing. Through blind and double-blind testing, the assessor is able to determine whether a laboratory can detect a drug and whether its results are correct. Quality assurance and laboratory proficiency go hand-in-hand with accreditation. In our racing industry, quality assurance and laboratory proficiency have historically been divided between two separate organizations of our scientists, each of whom tested themselves and with no collaboration between the programs. Following up on the recommendations of the DTI, these two programs are now being merged into a single new Equine Quality Assurance Program developed by the RMTC, but which will be administered and monitored by an independent third party. This is a totally new concept for our industry and another major step forward.
Consolidation of our existing 18-laboratory infrastructure, and creating one or more industry-sponsored research and reference laboratories, while absolutely essential for the future of our industry, is, and was always deemed to be, the most ambitious and difficult recommendation to achieve. There are political and funding issues that we knew would limit short-term progress and that was to be expected. Without further comment, I can tell you that I believe significant consolidation of our current laboratory structure is already under way at this time, and you will be hearing about this consolidation in the coming months.
As to the recommendation for one or more industry-sponsored research and reference laboratories, four of the laboratories seeking RMTC accreditation — New York, California, Pennsylvania and Kentucky — are, or will become, recognized research and reference laboratories, the kind envisioned when we made these recommendations. These are all state-of-the-art programs that combine drug testing and research. They will collaborate on all of our testing and research issues, an unprecedented and monumental step for our industry. They will help us answer the questions that continually arise about drug testing in racing and make it possible for us to deliver a coherent explanation. More importantly for this moment, two of our laboratories are presently collaborating on the identification and confirmation of certain gene and blood-doping agents, the new generation of drugs that I warned of two years ago, that are now finding their way into the equine sport. Funding for this effort is being made possible by the RMTC. I am confident that you will be hearing about the fruits of their labor in the not too distant future.
The DTI recognized that it was imperative that we recruit the next generation of researchers and scientists to our drug-testing program. We also knew there was an attendant cost. In response to this recommendation, the RMTC authorized the expenditure of $75,000/year for three years for a matching grant graduate/post-doctoral fellowship program. These funds are made possible by the contributions of all of the industry organizations who contribute to the RMTC. You may have read, but if not, I am pleased to tell you that two individuals whose research is concentrated in corticosteroids and extra-corporeal shock wave therapy and gene doping have become the first to receive grants from the RMTC. These RMTC grants will be matched by both the University of Pennsylvania and UC-Davis. We are finally beginning to focus on our future scientific needs and these two gifted individuals will hopefully become partners in our scientific efforts in the years to come.
Finally, the DTI recommended that the industry adopt a program involving the long-term storage of frozen samples, to give our scientists the latitude to look at prior samples as new drugs and tests emerge, and to deter anyone from thinking that we are limited by the current state of our testing capabilities. The RMTC adopted this recommendation, has created the program with funding from The Jockey Club, and it is being implemented throughout the country.
I think that's a pretty good report card.
Quietly, but with resolve, we have tackled the single most difficult and complex problem for racing, and have collectively taken the steps necessary to change for the better. We have made enormous strides, but this is just the beginning of an ongoing effort. We need the industry's continuing support — political, financial and otherwise — as we push forward. There must be no hesitation or margin for error, if we are to regain the confidence of the public, the media, our core fans, and our fellow participants, in the integrity of our sport. Because it involves gambling, our sport will always face questions and concerns about the use of drugs and medications in horses. But it doesn't have to be an albatross around our neck. I can assure you that as our new drug testing system continues to evolve, the negative perceptions of our sport will begin to change. We owe a debt of gratitude to the numerous individuals who have given hundreds of hours of their time, expertise, and commitment to move this effort forward, and to all of you for your support, both financial and otherwise. This is truly a good moment for our sport.