The Shelf Life of the National Uniform Medication Program has Expired

I always have been, and now remain, a strong advocate of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC). For all the fine work that the organization has accomplished, there remains a chasm of needed reforms that the RMTC has not and never will be able to accomplish.

I’ll explain in a moment.

But first, an acknowledgment is in order.

Thank you, Dr. Benson

Dr. Dionne Benson has been the executive director and chief operating officer of the RMTC since 2012.  Last month, The Stronach Group announced that Dr. Benson had been hired as the company’s chief veterinary officer.

 It is a great move!

Dr. Benson is smart (very smart), savvy, well respected, and is well placed to move horse health and integrity of racing to a new level in the U.S.

What is the National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP)?

The following are the four key components:

  1. Implementation of a two-tier drug classification system: controlled therapeutic medications and prohibited substances with regulatory thresholds and withdrawal guidelines provided for each of the controlled therapeutic medications
  2. Administration of furosemide on race day by the official veterinarian, the racing veterinarian, or his/her designee no fewer than four hours prior to post time
  3. Accreditation of all equine drug-testing facilities that meets the recently enacted RMTC Code of Standards for Drug Testing Laboratories.
  4. Adoption of the current version of the Association of Racing Commissioners International Penalty Guidelines for Multiple Medication Violations (MMV) by state racing commissions.

I think everyone would agree that the mere existence of the NUMP reflects progress. I don’t think that anyone can argue with a straight face that it constitutes true reform. First and foremost, the NUMP is only a set of model rules — each racing state has the choice to adopt them, in part or in whole, as they see fit. Second, there are numerous missing components in the model rule that one would believe are necessary to protect the integrity of the sport.

Here are just a few things that are missing:

  1. No requirement that states test to a set industry standard.
  2. No requirement that states conduct a certain number of out-of-competition tests. Let’s say, for example, 10% – 15% as is done in other major racing countries across the globe.
  3. No requirement that equine test samples be preserved for future analysis as laboratories develop methods to detect new drugs and substances.

These three initiatives are essential to any integrity-based testing program. Without these (and several others), any claim that the sport is clean is ridiculous. No one can claim the sport is clean without implementing the necessary safeguards to detect those who are cheating.

That is why no matter how hard some in the industry try to sell NUMP as true reform, no one who knows and understands the issues is buying it.

The RMTC will never be able to ensure that the three missing components I have mentioned are actually implemented.

The reasons are twofold. First, the RMTC has no authority to require anyone to do anything. The power to regulate is vested with individual state racing commissions. Second, the industry stakeholders, collectively, cannot make it happen under the current regulatory structure.

Our reality is our proof. If the industry wanted to get these things done, they would have already happened — long ago!

The few missing elements I mentioned are not cutting-edge developments in the world of regulation. Each is a basic block upon which a drug-testing program is built. They are foundational elements. Without these programs as a foundation, no amount of tinkering with other regulatory elements will sufficiently protect the sport.

Is that the best the RMTC can do?

Simply stated, yes.

As I said, under the current regulatory structure, the RMTC has no authority. Its consensus-driven structure populated with industry segments protecting special interest ensures that any progress will be slow and tepid, at best. According the RMTC website, it is governed by a board of directors consisting of the following 23 industry stakeholder groups:

  • American Association of Equine Practitioners
  • American Quarter Horse Association
  • Arabian Jockey Club
  • Breeders’ Cup Ltd.
  • California Thoroughbred Trainers
  • Churchill Downs Inc.
  • Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
  • The Hambletonian Society
  • The Jockey Club
  • Jockeys’ Guild
  • Keeneland Association
  • KHRC Equine Drug Research Council
  • Kentucky Thoroughbred Association
  • National HBPA
  • National Thoroughbred Racing Association
  • New York Racing Association
  • Oak Tree Racing Association
  • Racing Commissioners International
  • The Stronach Group
  • Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association
  • Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association
  • Thoroughbred Owners of California
  • Thoroughbred Racing Associations

Many of these entities embrace the structural change necessary to establish a genuine integrity-based drug testing program. Others stand in the way.

What does real reform look like?

A good starting point is a review of Vision 2025: To Prosper, Horse Racing Needs Comprehensive Reform, produced by The Jockey Club and published March 28, 2019. It is the most thorough single document I’ve seen on reform. I’ll be posting my thoughts on this document and suggest other reforms later this summer.

Can we do better?

Of course we can!

That would require, however, changing the structure from which we operate.

It would require the passage of federal legislation known as the Horse Racing Integrity Act.

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