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Washington Horse Racing Commission

President's Message - July 26

Greetings to the members of the WHBPA:

Well, it has been a couple of months since I sat down to send you a message, and I apologize for that.  My wife and I moved over the Memorial Day weekend, moving from a small farm to a larger small farm, and it has taken a lot out of our “summer” to get everything lined up and to get going on all of the various and continuing projects that need to be done.

This last weekend was a banner one in a number of regards – the Harwood’s Noosa Beach continued to show that he is the class of everything local around here, and we put on and wrapped up the 2011 National HBPA Summer Convention in Seattle. My thanks to MaryAnn and Lanna for all of their efforts in getting it done, and to several of our local friends who helped sponsor the event.  We will be getting our thank you notes out soon.

We were proud to have the Washington HBPA host this event.  The National HBPA has a summer and winter convention each year (as well as Executive Committee meetings held another time during the year) in an effort to help us keep up to date on what has been going on and to learn from our various affiliates the challenges that they face in keeping our sport going. 

The event was held at a downtown hotel, and featured a tremendous panel of three research and practice veterinarians on the current national “hot button” issue of medication, as well as a second one on “visions for the future” on issues that are confronting our industry.  The second panel had five speakers, moderated by National HBPA President Joe Santanna, to include Alex Waldrop, the President of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA); Charles Chapman, the former chief of Youbet; Frank Petramalo, the General Counsel and Executive Director of the Virginia HBPA; and Ron Crockett representing independent track operators and the issues that they face.  I also spoke during this forum regarding issues that I see confronting our sport, with particularity the issue of the lack of a true “industry” due to too many participants, nationally, internationally, and locally who act, in my view, as a collection of self-interests.  All of our speakers were well-received, and, fortunately for our visitors as well as our attendance at the racetrack, the weather this past weekend was spectacular.

The number one issue in the media and at discussion nationally relates to the position taken by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (known as “RCI” or “ARCI” in published materials) that came “out of the blue” earlier this year with a proposal to ban all race day medication.  Since race day medication in most every jurisdiction is limited to Lasix (also know as Salix or Furosemide), this is a call to ban the use of Lasix on race day.  Earlier this year, in response to this call, the NTRA, along with RMTC (the racing medication/testing consortium) and the Jockey Club, held an international “summit” immediately after the Belmont Stakes in New York to discuss this issue.  The summit included discussion on the facts that in Europe, horses cannot race on Lasix, but they do, as a matter of practice, train on it, with regular use for each workout.   So, even in workouts, they do recognize the usefulness of the drug.

Following the summit, continuing calls for the elimination of Lasix have been heard from The Jockey Club, the Breeders Cup, and Frank Stronach.  This movement seems to be gathering momentum, and it baffles many of us as to why that is the case.  And to this date, the National HBPA has opposed the reduction or elimination of Lasix from the thoroughbred racing industry.  Why?
Science.  The simple answer is science.  In Seattle, Ed Martin, who serves as the Executive Director of the ARCI  stated that his group did not have the studies necessary to guide its decision-making.  So, clearly, if that is the case, why are they making any judgments and trying to get their membership (primarily racing commission members from across the country) to ban race-day medication?  The answer to that, I believe is “appearance” and “PR” – public relations.

Unlike the knee-jerk reactors in and around horseracing, the National HBPA takes the following position, as I would characterize it: “Based upon the science that has been done to date, we can say without question that the use of race day Lasix reduces the events and severity of Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH) that can cause risk to the health and safety of both the horse and the rider.”   We have scientific studies that have been performed which confirm that individual horses are in fact better off with the use of Lasix.  On an economic basis, this is also better for the owner, who has an investment in the horse, and the trainer, who can keep a horse in training due to this drug, and the overall sport, which can provide more numbers to the starting gate, and thus put on a better wagering show.

Accordingly, although we appear to be swimming upstream on this one, we will continue to hold tight to the basic theme: if you want to make a change, fine, but do so only in the grasp of scientific knowledge and proof.  Lasix has a strongly proven efficacy to prevent and limit EIPH; without question, the elimination of its use will increase the number and severity of bleeders, and it will cause economic harm to the owners, trainers, and industry.  It might be the “feel good” thing to do to eliminate it on race day, but in point of fact other than for the sake of appearance, it cannot help our industry.

Horseracing has a rigorous testing policy across this country, and more rigorous than in any other sport (we learned that in the last Olympics, 30% of the tri-athletes were on bronco-dilators, as one example).  25% of the horses that race are tested; of those, more than 99% are “clean” from violations of any class 1 or 2 (performance enhancing) medications.  Of the more than 6,000 licensed trainers in this country, more than 98.5% of them have never been found to have violated the class 1 or 2 drugs.  We run a clean sport – yes, there are a handful of people who try to cheat or overmedicate through negligence – but on the whole, our horses and the people that train them are clean.  To make changes for the sake of appearance, while at the same time putting horse, rider, owner, trainer, and our industry’s economic success at risk, makes little immediate sense to me.

That’s where we are, as your HBPA.  Thanks for reading and supporting racing in Washington.

Ron Maus

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