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Jockey Club Proposes Ban on Race-Day Drugs

Jockey Club Proposes Ban on Race-Day Drugs

The Jockey Club, among the most influential groups in horse racing, on Friday will propose a ban on the use of drugs for horses on race day, along with stiff penalties, including a lifetime ban for repeat offenders.

The proposal, if adopted by state racing commissions, would bring American racetracks in alignment with those in Europe, where horses may not race on any drugs and where the fatality rate for horses is far lower.

Currently, horses in the United States are allowed to run on certain amounts of pain medicine, which veterinarians say can mask ailments that could lead to injuries or catastrophic breakdowns while racing.

“The Jockey Club continues to believe that horses should run only when they are free from the influence of medication and that there should be no place in this sport for those who repeatedly violate medication rules,” said James L. Gagliano, the group’s president.

The proposal came after an article Sunday in The New York Times that analyzed safety issues at American racetracks, including statistics gleaned from the official accounts of more than 150,000 races, injury reports, drug test results and interviews. According to The Times’s investigation, the industry has failed to break free from a culture of drugs and lax regulation.

In New Mexico, which The Times found had the most serious safety problems, Gov. Susana Martinez asked the state racing commission this week to provide her with “a full report” on what steps she needed to take “to ensure that the resources and support exists to better protect horses and jockeys in our state,” according to a spokesman, Scott Darnell.

Vince Mares, who became executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission in January, said he would recommend tougher penalties for trainers who violated drug laws on both therapeutic and prohibited performance-enhancing drugs. Mr. Mares also said he would request more robust financing for drug testing, better investigations of trainers who break rules and necropsies to determine why horses died racing.

“This is something that I inherited, and I have the task of cleaning it up,” he said. Recently, New Mexico became the first state to totally ban the use of a therapeutic drug that mimics the muscle-building qualities of steroids.

The Jockey Club’s proposed new rules are supported by the Breeders’ Cup, which already has banned race-day medications for 2-year-olds in its approaching 2012 world championships and plans to extend it for horses of all ages next year.

“We must dedicate our efforts to adopting uniform rules that ensure a level playing field and that ensure those who do not wish to abide by those rules can no longer compete against those who do,” said Craig Fravel, the Breeders’ Cup president and chief executive.

Vincent Francia, general manager at Turf Paradise, a racetrack in Phoenix, said that the Times analysis of safety issues prompted him to contact the director of the Arizona Department of Racing about increasing penalties for drug violators. “I’ve gotten with the director and begun to lay down a plan to get to zero tolerance in regards to drugs,” Mr. Francia said.

He said that fines and suspensions should be immediate, and that anyone caught using a prohibited substance should be “banned for as long as the law merits.”

Senator Tom Udall, Democrat from New Mexico, issued a statement this week that blamed the absence of a uniform federal law for problems in horse racing. “The consequence of inconsistent state-level regulation is an epidemic of animal doping that has led to countless euthanizations of helpless horses and the injury and death of their riders,” Mr. Udall said.

He asked Congress to support the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act, a bill he is co-sponsoring with Representative Edward Whitfield, Republican from Kentucky.

“The horse racing industry has promised voluntary reforms for decades, but as we’ve painfully observed, our legislation is the only viable way to address doping problems plaguing the sport,” he said.

Source: The New York Times

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