By T. D. Thornton
The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council (EDRC), which serves as an advisory board to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC), advanced a Dec. 1 recommendation to that full board that would require any horse who receives clenbuterol to be restricted via the veterinarian’s list for 21 days and then test clear of that substance prior to being removed from the list and allowed to compete.
Kentucky’s current clenbuterol regulation requires a prescription that must be filed with the KHRC within 24 hours of dispensing the drug and a withdrawal time of 14 days, according to Bruce Howard, DVM, who serves as the equine medical director for the KHRC.
Howard explained prior to the vote that the switch would align Kentucky with a clenbuterol model rule enacted by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium on Aug. 24.
Within the past year, a number of racing jurisdictions have tightened clenbuterol restrictions based on evidence showing the medication has been widely abused for its repartitioning effect that promotes lean muscle mass. Originally, clenbuterol was developed and is still prescribed as a potent bronchodilator that effectively treats respiratory issues.
On Jan. 1, the California Horse Racing Board enacted a clenbuterol rule that requires a prescription for appropriate usage plus a stint on the vet’s list until the drug clears. On May 1, the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency started banning clenbuterol 28 days out from race day at tracks country-wide. On Oct. 22, the Maryland Racing Commission advanced a rule proposal similar to California’s, and the New York State Gaming Commission did the same Nov. 30.
In addition, more restrictive “house rules” will be in effect at Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn Park during their race meets, and racing commissions in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia are also expected to clamp down on clenbuterol abuse by changing or writing new regulations.
“The KHRC office has received concerns and comments from numerous trainers and owners who feel that clenbuterol is being misused,” Howard said. “They’re concerned that clenbuterol is being used for the anabolic-type [steroid] effect rather than the therapeutic effect prescribed. There have been instances where veterinary records show clenbuterol is being dispensed to numerous horses in a barn, and in some cases the entire stable.
“The KHRC staff would propose that horses being prescribed clenbuterol for medically therapeutic purposes be placed on the veterinarian’s list for 21 days, with blood and urine testing negative for clenbuterol required for being removed from the veterinarian’s list,” Howard continued.
The clenbuterol proposal was the only item on Tuesday’s EDRC agenda, and it drew little discussion among board members, who had already broached the subject during a September meeting.
However, Andy Roberts, DVM, who represents Standardbred interests on the EDRC, again voiced concerns he raised in September about the need to treat harness horses differently than Thoroughbreds when it comes to clenbuterol because of how frequently Standardbreds race.
“I don’t want to diminish the concerns about clenbuterol because I think that it’s not illegitimate to want to control its administration to legitimate therapeutic purposes,” Roberts said. “However, I think the Standardbreds are taking it really quite strongly in the shorts on this one, because our horses race almost every week. There’s almost no opportunity to put the horses on clenbuterol already.”
Roberts noted that several states have shorter withdrawal times for Standardbreds on clenbuterol, and he said that Kentucky’s current 14-day standard backed by out-of-competition (OOC) testing protocols should be enough to catch abusers. He added that recent OOC testing at The Red Mile did not result in any clenbuterol positives
“That’s because you’ve taken the drug out of my hands on a therapeutic basis,” Roberts added.
Howard disagreed that tightening clenbuterol further would be harmful to Standardbreds.
“If a horse is severely ill enough that you feel you need to prescribe this drug, we’re trying not to take this out of your hands for therapeutic purposes,” Howard said. “I think this is a compromise to try and get away from the anabolic effect but still leave it in the hands of the private veterinarians…. I think it’s the perception of this anabolic-type effect or repartitioning effect that is what’s got everyone up in arms. When trainers are looking for that type of effect, that’s where the misuse or abuse of this drug takes place.”
Roberts countered: “First of all, it’s not an anabolic effect. It’s a repartitioning effect. And I know that’s splitting hairs, but it is not the same. Second, that repartitioning effect [has been shown in published studies] to last 11 days. So [the repartitioning effect] is gone before the drug is gone.”
Roberts warned fellow EDRC members about the danger of recommending rules based largely upon speculation that wrongdoing is occurring, adding that he already believes Standardbred trainers are withholding legitimate clenbuterol administration out of fears of triggering a positive.
“People would rather leave horses sick and end up with pleuropneumonia than treat them with clenbuterol. That means we are over-regulating,” Roberts said.
The board briefly debated a suggestion to have different rules for each breed, but KHRC executive director Marc Guilfoil said that was not how the KHRC operates on issues like this one.
“No, this is an all-encompassing rule in Kentucky. One racing commission, [all] breeds. It would encompass the Standardbred horses the same as it would Thoroughbreds,” Guilfoil said.
The EDRC passed the measure by voice vote, with Roberts the lone dissenter.