In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Solution to Horseracing's Medication Troubles

On-track pharmacies have the potential to restore racing integrity in America. 
The on-track pharmacy would be the only place drugs are allowed on the racetrack. The attending veterinarian examines a horse and prescribes a treatment. If medication is determined to be part of the therapy, the veterinarian submits the horse’s name, the diagnosis and requested medication to the racing regulatory body. The pharmacist and the regulatory veterinarian evaluate the request and dispense the medication. Everything is recorded; drug, dosage, frequency of administration, expiration date, lot number, brand name, etc.
Veterinarians would not be allowed to drive around the backside with truckloads of drugs, as this current practice has led to indiscriminate inappropriate treatments that have led to breakdowns and doping problems. On-track pharmacies would restore the medication protocols to be decided by veterinarians rather than trainers. 
Currently, trainers in large part decide what drugs their horses receive. With an on-track pharmacy policy in place, if a trainer thinks his or her horse needs a certain medication, a veterinarian would be required to assess the horse, arrive at a diagnosis, and then request the medication from the pharmacy, where further vetting would occur. 
Rather than being utilized as medication technicians, as attending veterinarians currently are, they would again become doctors practicing veterinary medicine. Instead of being paid for drugs they administer, horse doctors would again be compensated for their medical evaluation of the patient.
The pharmacy is the only place medication could be stored or dispensed on the racetrack, other than with the emergency trauma and colic responders. Pharmaceutical manipulation to enhance performance would be eliminated. No drugs would be allowed to come into the track through any other venue. Every horse would be medicated via this process, with the exception of emergency treatments. 
This is the model in Hong Kong, where the breakdown rate is one of the lowest in the world. This policy effectively prevents doping while providing horses with the necessary therapeutic medications to train and race. Every treatment is transparent. The bettors, trainers, owners, and all others are made aware of every treatment for every horse. The result is racing with increased integrity, increased safety, increased public support and increased handle.
The effectiveness of an on-track pharmacy on a wide-scale basis depends on the construct that all racehorses are stabled at the track, at least for a period of time before they run. Horses that are stabled off the track would be able to avoid the pharmacy protocol, unless some sort of stabling island surrounding the track could be established.
In Hong Kong, horses are required to be stabled at the track to race. Modifications to manage American racing could include that the pharmacy protocol, while best serving horses on a continuous basis, would be enforced after horses are entered into a race. This would also allow a gradual implementation of the on-track pharmacy. Protocols to include ship-ins could include prerace testing for horses stabled off track, but as we have seen, testing as a reliable method to manage doping has vast limitations.
Horsemen and veterinarians will oppose this, of course, as it is inconvenient, restrictive, and allows total transparency. On-track pharmacies have the potential, nonetheless, to manage doping and restrict the pharmaceutical manipulation of performance.
It is pharmaceutical manipulation that has caused much of the trouble the industry is having. Injuries to horses and jockeys are often because of doping and other improper medication practices, which also devalue horses, shortening their careers.
The sport was designed to test the natural ability of the horse, and the trainer’s ability to bring it out. Doping and pharmaceutical manipulation have become an integral part of horse racing in America. The breakdown rate in America is many times higher than in Hong Kong, and the ease of pharmaceutical manipulation is a primary reason.
Development of an on-track pharmacy policy is in the best interest of the racehorses, the riders, the players and the owners. It is this system that has the greatest potential to restore integrity to horse racing in America.
Sid Gustafson, D.V.M., is a novelist and equine veterinarian specializing in thoroughbred sports medicine and equine behavior. He currently practices regulatory veterinary medicine, representing the safety and welfare of thoroughbred racehorses. 

Link to the New York Times article by Dr. Gustafson outlining a potential solution to better manage racehorse doping in America to improve the health and safety of racehorses and riders.

Dr Gustafson is an equine veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, and novelist. Dr Gustafson provides equine behavior and welfare consultations to help recreate the needs and preferences of horses in training and competition.

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