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USTA committee calls for drug research, testing

June 28, 2012

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At the most recent United States Trotting Association (USTA) annual meeting in February, USTA president Phil Langley appointed a committee of horsemen and track operators to study drug testing and to investigate what the industry can do to improve testing procedures, including providing more financial support.
Paul Fontaine, president of Harness Tracks of America (HTA), agreed to head that committee and has already held several meetings.
"Unlike other efforts, which seem to be focused on known and mostly therapeutic medicines, this committee's aim is to identify and eliminate the exotic and unknown drugs we suspect now exist,” said Langley. "Currently, most of the labs used are capable of testing for a common panel of drugs, but few have the capabilities or funding in the area of research.

"Let us be reminded that the real problem of integrity in our industry comes from our inability to test for those exotic drugs that are eluding our current testing capabilities,” added the USTA president. "Only a strong and concentrated focus on research to develop the tests required will lead to eventual eradication of these substances.”

To that end, the committee has held extensive discussions with Doctors Larry Soma (University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine), George Maylin (Cornell University) and Rick Sams (Director, HFL Sport Science Laboratory in Lexington, Ky.) to find the best approach to conduct research.

"It has become apparent that the best solution is to provide one lab with the best possible equipment and have it concentrate on research,” explained Fontaine. "Already this group has earmarked approximately twenty or so suspected or rumored substances they believe exist.”

A very positive development has been the financial support of the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen's Association (PHHA) and some funds from the state of Pennsylvania.

"The PHHA has stepped forward and committed a portion of its slots revenue, for which they should be congratulated,” said Fontaine. "As this process moves along, it is expected that well over $1 million will be available for this project.

"Our committee is very close to an assault on this research void through a comprehensive research program funded by the sources indicated as well as other industry partners,” added Fontaine. "Stage One will be led by Dr. Soma, a highly respected scientist in Pennsylvania.”

In addition, there has been a long-standing call for uniform medication rules and penalties among all states by many in the industry.

"When Scot Waterman was directing RMTC, that was one of his main goals and in many cases model rules were adopted,” said Langley. "Unfortunately, for one reason or another, most states had minor differences in allowable levels of things like Bute or Lasix and, even more importantly, the penalties for violations.”

Also affecting the acceptable levels of medications have been the variable methods and capabilities of the different labs conducting the testing.

"It seems to us, that a fairly straightforward solution would be for the Racing Commissioners International (RCI) to get a consensus on what the rules should be and put them in place,” emphasized Langley. "We at the USTA are confident that HTA and Harness Horsemen International would join us to sit with Ed Martin and his people at RCI to get this done since only the various racing boards have the authority to do this.

"As this process moves on we will keep the industry up to date with timely reports,” concluded Langley. (HRC)

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