LA Racing Commission to Loosen Drug Regulations, including on Clenbuterol



The Louisiana Racing Commission has passed a set of emergency rules set to go into effect on June 8 that will create what are arguably the most lenient set of medication regulations in the sport. The withdrawal times for several medications have been reduced, and the list includes the controversial bronchodilator Clenbuterol. It can now be given to a horse within 72 hours of its racing.

Louisiana, a state that does not fall under control of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) currently follows guidelines established by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI). Under the ARCI rules, the withdrawal time for Clenbuterol is 14 days prior to a race.

The HISA rules on Clenbuterol, a drug that is believed to act like a steroid and build muscle mass, are even more strict. Clenbuterol can be prescribed by a veterinarian for a duration not to exceed 30 days in a six-month period. After the horse is administered Clenbuterol, the covered horse shall be placed on the veterinarians' list and shall not be eligible to participate in a workout or race until blood samples have been taken that show that the drug is no longer in the horse's system. Under HISA, any trainer violating the Clenbuterol rules faces a suspension of up to two years.

Why the racing commission made these changes, which it called “Active Emergency Rules of Racing,” is unclear. The TDN placed calls to the commission's executive director Stephen Landry and assistant executive director Gerald Calogero. By deadline for this story, neither racing executive had returned those phone calls.

In loosening up the rules regarding medications, the Louisiana Racing Commission went against a trend in the sport, which has largely cut back on the use of medications and in particular Clenbuterol.

ACRI President Ed Martin, made it clear he was not in favor of the changes.

“Our withdrawal time is 14 days and they've set it at 72 hours. That's a huge change,” Martin said. “I do not understand the reasons for this and I don't understand why this was an emergency rule. There have been concerns with the over use of Clenbuterol because it has a steroidal effect on horses. We do not understand why they would depart from the ARCI model rules. If they had information and thought the model rules should be revisited they should have come to us. We do that sort of thing from time to time. But no one from Louisiana has come to us for consideration. It is a unilateral action and we've reached out to the commission and are requesting any supporting documentation.

“There have been concerns that use of Clenbuterol is something that needs to be approved by the regulatory veterinarian. We understand the benefit as a medication and the ACRI model rule landed where it is as a result of significant work by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium's scientific advisory committee. This is a departure from a long standing, established regulatory practice. We don't understand what the emergency is. What you are allowing is allowing therapeutic drugs to be given closer in to race day than has otherwise been the agreed upon norms by all the regulators in the country, which have collaboratively assessed the science and the challenges that the sport faces. Those rules have worked well for many years.”

Another dramatic rule change is the one regarding Depo-Medrol, or methylprednisolone, a steroid injected into joints to treat pain and swelling. ARCI model rules call for a 100 mg. injection with a withdrawal time of 21 days. The Louisiana rule doubles the allowable injection to 200 mg. while cutting the withdrawal time down to seven days.

While HISA has no control over what goes on in Louisiana, HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus expressed her disappointment and worried what the Louisiana decision would do for horse racing's overall image.

“From a HISA perspective, obviously we are really disappointed,” she said. “This is a time when the industry is really coming together and making really significant progress, particularly in the area of safety and welfare of the horses. This will definitely set the industry back and create a bigger gap between the HISA and non-HISA tracks that we already have. Even though it's not a HISA state, the general public doesn't know that Louisiana isn't governed by our rules. They look at horse racing as one industry.”

Lazarus said there are some steps that HISA could take.

“From an integrity standpoint, we're not going to be able to let horses just come back and forth from Louisiana to a HISA track,” she said. “That would be unfair to the trainers who are competing according to the rules at all the HISA tracks, given how big the gap is. We haven't worked through exactly how we are going to adjust that. It could be additional clearance testing. It could be some sort of prohibition regarding going back and forth from Louisiana. It wouldn't be fair to the horsemen at the HISA tracks if we are going to allow horses who were on, for example, Clenbuterol, which, as we know, stays in the system for a long time, and come in and race against trainers who have not been in Louisiana.

Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, an outspoken critic of Clenbuterol, expressed similar sentiments. A Fair Grounds regular, he said he may not return there later this year.

“This is a step backwards,” he said. “The biggest disappointment to me is that when horses leave the Fair Grounds and they come to compete outside of there, they're going to have an advantage that is not really fair. Clenbuterol, even though it only stays in their blood for a period of about 10 days, the effects of it can last for a long time. There is no way that it doesn't move horses up.”

Trainer Cherie DeVaux, who winters at the Fair Grounds, appeared to agree, posting on X, “This is a big step backwards for all of the positive change towards the safety of this industry. Also, creates an uneven playing field for those that race and esp claim at FG for the winter and go back to HISA-regulated tracks. Hoping for some sort of resolution before that time.”

Not every horseman was upset by the changes. Benard Chatters, who is the president of the Louisiana HBPA, said the new rules will be good for the horses. He said that to the best of his knowledge, no one from the HBPA lobbied the commission to make the changes.

“These new rules are good and they will help us to be effective horsemen,” Chatters said. “I like them. The rules on these medications are well thought out and will let horsemen practice their trade and help veterinarians to do their job effectively. I am happy with these changes, I can tell you that. They are trying to do what is right for the animals. I imagine they changed the rules to try to allow the horse to get the optimal care.”

Churchill Downs Inc., the owner of the Fair Grounds, did not see it the same way.

“Churchill Downs Incorporated is extremely disappointed with the Louisiana Racing Commission's `emergency rule making' to weaken Louisiana racing medication standards,” said Tonya Abeln, Vice President of Communications for CDI, in a statement emailed to TDN. “We had no opportunity to weigh in on this action and view it as an inexcusable abuse of process resulting in a substantial degradation in the safety and integrity of racing in the State.”

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