☛ Could Feds take over equine drug policies? 5-5-16
FROM THE EDITOR:
COULD THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TAKE OVER DRUG POLICIES FOR ALL HORSE EVENTS?
By Glory Ann Kurtz
May 5, 2016
The thought of the federal government being in charge of the drug policies in the horse industry is pretty scary. However, that may happen sooner than we think.
During a Congressional Hearing on Thursday, April 16, it was reported by the Baltimore Sun that former Maryland Jockey Club chief executive Joseph A. De Francis told members that “the public’s dwindling confidence in American horse racing’s medication policies has reached a critical state, bordering on an industry crisis.” He said the industry has failed “to address on a national level,” the issue of abuse and misuse of racehorse medications.
Click for Baltiimore Sun article>>
This speech came only days after Jess C. Meche, a 21-year-old exercise rider at Delta Downs Racetrack in Vinton, La., died in a training accident on April 11. Meche, Church Point, La., was killed when a Quarter Horse, Czech Revolution, fractured both front legs, throwing the rider to the ground, landing on the jockey’s head and upper body. Sound like a terrible accident? And what did the death of a Quarter Horse exercise rider have to do to with a Congressional hearing on drugs in the Thoroughbred racing business?
Plenty. According to the Paulick Report, a top racing website, “Czech Revolution was trained by M. Heath Taylor, who in September 2012 was suspended five years and fined $10,000 by the Louisiana State Racing Commission for a Dermorphin positive at Delta Downs last May 25. Dermorphin, also known as frog juice because it originally came from a secretion from South American free frogs, is a powerful pain killer classified as a Class 1 drug by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI). Class 1 drugs are considered performance-enhancing substances and the most dangerous by the RCI and serve no therapeutic use in horses.”
Pain killers obviously make horses run faster, even with legs and knees that aren’t sound, causing joints to give away when they are running either maiming or killing the horse and/or the rider.
ARE TOP TRAINERS GETTING OUT?
Another article in the Paulick Report reported that trainer Dale Romans, who has won major races around the globe, from the Group 1 Dubai World Cup with Roses in May, the G1 Preakness Stakes with Shackleford, to numerous Breeders’ Cup races, has become disenchanted with the state of racing in the U.S. (due to the use of drugs) and appears to be eager to make a major change as he nears his 50th birthday. He indicated that he would love to join the training ranks in Hong Kong, should a license become available.
Romans said he was “sick of what’s happened to the sport in the U. S. I’m done with it. I’m a horseman and I think races should be won by the better horseman, not something else. I was very impressed with what I saw in Hong Kong when I was there and I know that, because the vet side of racing is so tightly controlled there. It’s the superior horseman who will succeed. They’ve never had an American trainer but if they want me, I’d love to train there.”
Click for Romans article>>
HOW ARE QUARTER HORSE TRAINERS GETTING OUT OF SUSPENSIONS?
Taylor, a leading trainer in the Quarter Horse business, obtained a stay of his Louisiana suspension, as did Alvin Smith Jr. (suspended 10 years); John Darrel Soileau (10 years); Alonzo Loya (five years); Kyi Lormand (3 years); Anthony Agilar (six years) and Gonzalo Gonzales (3 years. Only Keith Charles, among the eight trainers suspended in Louisiana for having a horse in their care test positive for Dermorphin, accepted the penalty without filing an appeal.
How are they getting away with this? According to the Paulick Report article, Quarter Horse racetracks in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and California have used their private property rights to exclude trainers with recent Class 1 violations, including the Louisiana trainers with Dermorphin suspensions. The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) also announced sanctions against the trainers with Class 1 violations, suspending their AQHA memberships and disqualifying their horses from Racing Championships or year-end honors. (See below as the AQHA recently suspended this program.)
Click for Paulick Report on exercise rider’s death>>>
However, Louisiana racetracks have not followed suit. Boyd Gaming, a publicly traded company, who owns 22 casino entertainment properties in Nevada, New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, owns Delta Downs and another Louisiana track, Evangeline Downs. Horses that suffer fatalities in Louisiana do not undergo post-mortem examination or toxicology tests!
In the meantime, Quarter Horse training accidents are killing horses jockeys and exercise riders at an alarming rate across the country. In his speech during Congressional hearing, De Francis said, “The erosion of public confidence has reached a critical state and I truly believe that we are just one catastrophic breakdown in a Triple Crown race away from destroying public confidence to the point where it would be decades before the sport could recover – if it ever would.” He continued, saying , “There’s no doubt that the horse racing industry is currently in a state of crisis.”
The hearing at the U.S. Capitol examined legislation requiring that a uniform anti-doping program be developed and enforced by an independent authority. Advocates of the bill say the sport, which is overseen by several dozen state commissions with varying rules, needs more uniformity to curb equine medication abuses. Opponents argue that such an approach would usurp states’ rights ad create an unneeded new layer of bureaucracy.
WHY THE SUDDEN CHANGE IN THE AQHA’S STANCE?
In addition, on March 7, 2016, the AQHA announced their new Multiple Medication Violation System (MMVS) was being suspended to more thoroughly evaluate the MMVS program. According to AQHA President Dr. Glenn Blodgett, “AQHA continually evaluates the cost and benefit of the program to ensure that AQHA resources are devoted in the most effective way for achieving the goals of the program.
“The creation by AQHA of a comprehensive database of drug violations across all racing jurisdictions has required tremendous resources and one that going forward would require AQHA to triple the number of staff assigned to the program These additional staff members would be needed to properly document violations, enter such violations in the database, and to provide notices of violations to both the racing jurisdictions and the violators themselves.
“The AQHA Executive Committee has determined that the time is right to conduct a thorough evaluation of the MMVS prior to allocating additional resources to the program,” said Dr. Blodgett. “In order to conduct the necessary evaluation, it makes sense to temporarily suspend the MMVS program so that the current resources and staff assigned to processing MMVS files can instead turn their attention and efforts to the evaluation process.”
Click for full MMVS article published by AQHA>>
My question is, “Is this costly endeavor being discontinued because the AQHA feels that the federal government will soon be controlling it and they can save their money, do they feel that state laws could override their penalties or is the fact they are involved in Quarter Horse Racing and each year a member of their Executive Committee is deeply involved?
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE PERFORMANCE HORSE INDUSTRY?
Frank Merrill wrote an interesting article in the April 15 issue of Quarter Horse News regarding the federal take-over of the drug problem in horses, saying , “A federal mandate governing equine medication and punishment for violations could very well be the answer to our welfare concerns. But it’s imperative that the feds are presented with our own set of rules and guidelines (by horsemen, for horsemen). If left to their own discretion, the feds will structure policies that none of us can live with and, as a result, our industry will suffer greatly.” I think he has hit the nail on the head!
Click for Frank Merrill article>>
A RE-RUN FOR RICK DENNIS:
Rick Dennis’s Certificate from the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, dating as far back as 1973.
Rick Dennis, Wind River Company LLC, is a frequent writer for this website and has written several articles on drugs in horses, including one from Aug. 6, 2014 published on www.allaboutcutting.com, called “The Mechanical Horse – A Horse Under the Influence of Drugs.”
Click for “The Mechanical Horse”>>
Rick’s been there and done that. He has a Certificate from the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, dating as far back as 1973, and his Drug and Alcohol interdiction Programs have been an industry leader in the private sector since Jan. 28, 1984. His modified drug-interdiction program, i.e. augmented drug law enforcement programs adaptable for private industry use, revolutionized private-sector drug and alcohol-interdiction programs. He is celebrating his 29th year as a Third Party Administrator (TPA) administering DOT employee drug and alcohol testing programs in the private sector.
More importantly, he’s been involved inn Congressional Hearings on drugs! He was the first security professional to provide consultation services to a U.S. Senate Subcommittee, U.S. Navy and Department of Defense referencing private sector drug interdiction programs for adoption and interphase with the U.S. Military; the first security professional to establish an employee drug-testing laboratory in Louisiana: Certified Lab Inc., in 1987 and the first security professional to author, implement and maintain a drug- and alcohol-testing program designed specifically for contractor application for Exxon Company, USA Mobile Bay Construction Project, Mobile Bay, Ala
Click for Rick Dennis experience and achievements>>
I asked Rick if these congressional hearings have any correlation with what he experienced in the problem of drugs within the military and for company employees. Following was his response:
“The recent Federal hearings on drug testing in the equine industry are reminiscent of how the federalism of drug and alcohol testing in the private sector began. Initially, the hearings were billed as, “looking for solutions to the drug and alcohol abuse in the private sector to reduce accident rates and provide a safer working environment for employees.” Opponents to drug and alcohol testing alluded to the fact the federal program would never come to fruition. However, after a series of congressional hearings in 1986 and 1987 the reality of federal drug and alcohol testing of employees became a reality in the private sector in 1988 and continues today.
“During the initial or embryo stages of the federal drug and alcohol mandate hearings, I was summoned to Washington D.C. and testified before a Senate subcommittee and was quizzed about the types of drugs my private company was seizing in the private sector as well as the job environment the employees were working in. In fact, my private sector Company specialized in designing, implementing and maintaining drug and alcohol prevention policies to prevent drug abuse among the workforce. The drug prevention program included employee and supervisor training as well as searches of employees, their personal effects, vehicles and company-provided housing (where applicable).
“The initial federal drug-testing mandate was designed by Mr. Rip Rippert in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). The federal drug and alcohol testing requirements were included in the federal register under 49, CFR, Part 40 drug and alcohol testing rules and regulations. The program has a broad scope, as it does today and includes: The FAA, oil and gas pipelines, Federal highway, marine industry, nuclear industry, etc. The federal guidelines included laboratory testing and certification standards, sample collection, transport and retainment protocols, records retention, privacy, reporting protocols, drugs tested for and Medical Review Officer standards.
“The federal program also included fines and punishment for certain employees in designated positions. For example, ‘boat captains with U.S. Coast Guard licenses failing a drug or alcohol test are suspended after a confirmed positive, ordered to a disciplinary hearing before a Coast Guard tribunal and usually lose their licenses and their jobs. Subsequent to same, the employee is required to attend mandatory drug and alcohol rehabilitation at his or her personal non-refundable expense. After successfully completing mandatory rehabilitation, the employee is allowed to reapply for his or her license. However, there’s no guarantee the license will be reinstated. It’s essentially, a very expensive proposition for the violator.
“I see the same type of atmosphere brewing today in the horse industry. Overall, if the horse industry doesn’t want to experience the same federal takeover of their industry under a federally mandated drug-testing program, my advice would be to take care of their industry themselves. In essence, along with federal mandates comes a rapid vast expansion of government control and regulations as well as broad fines and penalties for the violator and non-compliant company or individual … or in the case of the horse industry, the non-compliant association and/or members.”
WHY SHOULD WE WORRY?
What does this possible federal intervention mean? If you are a horse owner and do something with your horse, other than feed it and look at it, you will be affected financially … even if you have no intention of using drugs. Whether you are a cutter or a reiner, or involved with the reined cow horse, mounted shooting, barrel racing, Western or English pleasure, halter, racing or even just trail riding, you will be affected. Your association, whether it be large or only 25-30 members will be affected. Your veterinarian will be affected. The sale companies will be affected. And the money will come from you.
The federal government has already gotten involved in horse abuse cases – and they will include horse-abuse cases with across-the-board penalties that will be very costly, not only to events, associations and horse farms but to individuals. It will no longer be a state’s decision, as it is today with the horse abuse laws. (Today, animal abuse is a felony, only if the state allows it to be.)
Instead of trying to figure out a way to get out of the penalties of using drugs, or ways to keep them from being detected, those in the industry – both individuals and associations or events – need to try to figure out a way to unite and keep drugs out of their horses and events. I just hope it’s not too late.