After reading this column you will likely hold a strong feeling on this matter.
Will you be disappointed or disgusted?
Or maybe you’ll be please that trainers can receive several positive tests each and every year without suffering even one extra day of suspension from a rule designed to penalize those who repeatedly violate racing drug and medication rules.
In my last column I shared with you this fact about an RCI model rule known as the multiple medication violation (MMV) rule.
Did you know that this national model recommendation is so weak that a trainer could, hypothetically, accumulate 80 to 90 positive tests over a 10-year period without suffering a single additional day suspension?
In this column I’ll explain how we got here.
Let’s start in 2013. After several years of prep work, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) passed a model rule with a structured penalty scheme that penalized trainers who were the industry’s repeat violators.
Three years later, MMV hadn’t received the support from racing commissions that the industry had hoped as only a handful of states had passed the model rule. By the end of the 2016 the RCI made several revisions to the MMV in an attempt to achieve greater acceptance by regulators.
By the time these revisions were final, the rule was sliced and diced, cut and gutted to a point that all that remained was a hollow shell. The industry then pasted a smiley face on this shell and proceeded to parade it around as one of their four pillars of the National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP).
The premise of the rule is that as a trainer accumulates positive test, points are assigned to each violation base on the classification of the drug – A, B, or C. Once a certain point threshold is met, suspension time is added to any base penalty.
What was changed in 2016? Well, just about everything.
I’ll focus on the class C drugs because they are the subject of the most frequent violations. Class C drugs include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids.
In 2013, each class C positive test earned a trainer one or two penalty points. Additional suspension time kicked in when three points were accumulated. So, depending on which class C drug was at issue, a trainer would begin receiving extra time when he or she accumulated two or three class C positive tests. The minimum additional suspension time was 30 days.
After the changes were made in 2016, almost all class C positives earned half a point. The threshold for additional penalty time was raised to five points. That’s why a trainer can now get up to nine positive tests before additional suspension time kicks in. That minimum time was reduced to 15 days.
You think that this is bad public policy? It gets worse.
Another change made in 2016 was the adoption of an expiration schedule for each drug class. For class C drugs, any points accumulated expired after a year. That’s why a trainer could get up to nine class C positive tests — year after year — and suffer no penalty under the MMV.
Did all industry stakeholders go along with such a scheme?
No. Not everyone.
The Jockey Club (TJC), for example was both adamant and vocal that these changes were a disservice to the industry. In a December 6, 2016, piece in the Paulick Report, titled, “Gagliano: Multiple Medication Violation Penalty Changes ‘A Step In The Wrong Direction,’’’ TJC’s president and chief operating officer, Jim Gagliano, said:
“In the wake of a recently published report about prospective changes that would weaken the penalties of the Multiple Medication Violation (MMV) Penalty System, The Jockey Club states its continuing opposition to such changes and requests that the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium (RMTC) consider withdrawing those changes before they are presented to the Association of Racing Commissioners International on Thursday, December 8, 2016.
“The Jockey Club collaborated with several other industry organizations affiliated with the RMTC in the original design of the MMV Penalty System, and we all shared a common goal: the creation of a consistent and fair system of penalties that would punish repeat violators and act as a deterrent to discourage such behavior. The proposed changes would eliminate points for the lowest penalty category and reduce both the number of suspension days and the time period points would stay on a horseman's record.
“The industry has long struggled to create and implement national uniform rules of drug testing and enforcement. Weakening the penalties that were designed to reduce the frequency of repeat offenses is a step in the wrong direction.”
The Horsemen Benevolent Protective Association (HBPA) took little time in responding to TJC. The next day, December 7, 2016, the HBPA’s president, Eric Hamelback, wrote in an Op/Ed piece in the Thoroughbred Daily News:
“It is beyond disappointing that The Jockey Club, in a statement blasting the modifications, once again has chosen to be divisive and deliberately blur illegal drugs with the legal therapeutic medication that help keep equine athletes in their best health possible.”
So, now the RCI had a decision to make.
We all know what they did. We now have a toothless MMV rule. Why? Because that’s the way they want it.
It should come as no surprise that the HBPA and the RCI are the racing industry’s most vocal opposition to the Horseracing Integrity Act.