Never Mind: Louisiana Racing Commission Rescinds All Changes to Its Medication Rules

Fair Grounds | Sarah Andrew


The Louisiana Racing Commission went back to square one Friday, announcing that it will adhere to the guidelines set by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) regarding medications.

The move came just nine days after the commission announced an emergency set of rules that were about to take effect and would have meant that Louisiana had, by far, the most lenient medications policies in the U.S. The withdrawal times for dozens of medications had been reduced and the threshold levels had been increased. The laundry list of changes included two particularly controversial drugs, Clenbuterol and Depo-Medrol. The withdrawal time for Clenbuterol was reduced to 72 hours. Under ACRI rules the withdrawal time was 14 days. The new regulations called for a withdrawal time of seven days for Depo-Medrol. Under ARCI rules the withdrawal time was 21 days.

Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator that is believed to act like a steroid and build muscle mass. Depo-Medrol is a steroid injected into joints to treat pain and swelling.

Louisiana is not under the control of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA).

The new rules were roundly criticized throughout an industry that has been trying to reduce the sport's dependence on drugs, including therapeutic medications, and create as safe a sport as possible. Some of the harshest criticism came from trainers who stable at the Fair Grounds before returning to Kentucky or other jurisdictions.

Reacting to the criticism, the Louisiana Racing Commission backtracked on the rules regarding Clenbuterol and Depo-Medrol, announcing Tuesday that, regarding those two drugs, it was returning to the rules established by the ARCI. With all other medications the new rules were to stay in effect.

But that was not enough to appease those opposed to the overall direction the commission had taken. On Wednesday, HISA announced that any horses shipping from Louisiana to tracks covered by HISA would have to go on the vet's list.

“HISA has reviewed the Emergency Rule (as modified during the public meeting on June 4, 2024) and HISA's Veterinary Team has determined that it poses significant risks to both equine welfare and the integrity of Thoroughbred racing,” read a HISA statement

Still more pressure came from Churchill Downs Inc., which owns the Fair Grounds. On Thursday, CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen sent a letter to the commission.

“…CDI views the LSRC's actions in passing the Remaining Emergency Rules as a credible risk to the reputation, safety and integrity of Louisiana racing that will result in damage to the economics of the Louisiana racing ecosystem,” Carstanjen's letter read. “Indeed with the announcement made Wednesday evening by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority requiring any horses that race in Louisiana to be placed on the HISA Veterinarian's List prior to running an another racing jurisdiction, our initial concerns are no longer hypothetical.”

Carstanjen went on to threaten that unless Louisiana fully adhered to the ARCI rules there would be a “strong likelihood that we will not hold the Risen Star, Lecomte, or the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, to name but a few key races.”

With its back fully up against the wall, the commission voted Friday to ditch the controversial rules it had passed and to fully return to the ARCI rules. The vote was unanimous.

“The commission does not wish to create any undo hardships to Louisiana racing participants,” said the commission's executive director Steven Landry. “Given these concerns the commission has convened today to consider a total revision to the April 29 changes to the medication rules, thereby returning to the rules that had been in place for the last several years.”

“In my opinion we never should have considered these emergency drug rules,” said Commissioner Mike McHalffey. “I would really like to apologize to all the horsemen in Louisiana and around the country for the trouble this has caused.”

Shortly after the Louisiana commission voted to rescind the emergency rules, HISA announced that horses shipping out of Louisiana will no longer be required to go on the vet's list.

“This afternoon, the Louisiana State Racing Commission held an Emergency Public Meeting at which the Commission voted to rescind in full the emergency updates to Louisiana's controlled medication schedule for thoroughbred racing, which reportedly were set to take effect tomorrow in Louisiana (the “Emergency Rule”),” the HISA statement read. “With the complete rescission of the Emergency Rule, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, Inc. (“HISA”) will not require Covered Horses shipping from Louisiana to a HISA jurisdiction to be placed on the HISA Veterinarians' List as medically compromised and unfit to race as announced in the June 5, 2024 Memorandum.  HISA appreciates the Commission's willingness to reconsider this important matter.”

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