By T. D. Thornton
The New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) unanimously voted in a rule change at its monthly meeting on Jan. 22 designed to curb the practice of “stacking” non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.
In a separate rulemaking vote on Monday, the NYSGC advanced a new proposal to the public commentary period that would allow a claimant to void a claim of a Thoroughbred if the horse is discovered to have become lame or experienced epistaxis due to exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH).
The anti-stacking rule passed with zero debate among commissioners.
“NSAIDs act to reduce pain by inhibiting the inflammatory process, which can improve healing and recovery from injury but can also inhibit the effects of the natural healing process, including swelling and associated pain that would prevent a horse from sustaining further injury,” NYSGC general counsel Edmund Burns wrote in a brief that was read into the record prior to Monday's voice vote. “The intent of this rulemaking is to prevent concurrent and otherwise excessive administrations of NSAIDs in race horses. This practice, commonly known as 'stacking,' could be employed to enhance and disguise the presence of prohibited substances in horses from regulators' testing methods.”
This anti-stacking proposal was published initially in the Nov. 9, 2016, New York State Register. At that time, the proposal was intended to disallow the use of more than one NSAID within one week of racing, as NSAIDs can be administered in combinations that increase the potency and duration of effect of the drugs.
But after consideration of public comments from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the NYSGC revised the proposal to permit up to two NSAIDs within one week of racing, provided that one is not used within 96 hours of the race and the other is not used within the current 48-hour restricted period.
That revision, according to Burns, “preserved the intent of the initial proposal while addressing a legitimate concern raised” in the comments that were received.
“The revised proposal also includes a rule amendment to delete meclofenamic acid (formerly marketed as Arquel) as an NSAID permitted to be administered within one week of racing,” Burns wrote. “This substance is no longer marketed by any pharmaceutical company and it might be efficacious for more than 48 hours. There is no veterinary necessity for its use within one week of racing and there is no national threshold for this drug.”
The claim voiding proposal drew about 10 minutes of back-and-forth consideration that largely centered on balancing the positive aspects of horse welfare with the need to make sure the NYSGC wasn't inviting implementation difficulties or liability issues by tweaking existing claiming rules.
Burns explained the claim voiding rules in his brief this way: “Under this new proposal, a claimed horse would go to the test barn. After an appropriate cooling out period, before which lameness is not always apparent, the state veterinarian, who supervises the test barn, would examine the horse for lameness.”
If the horse is determined have “grade two” or higher lameness according to the guidelines of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (the same standard New York uses to put a horse on the veterinarians' list), or if the horse is determined to have bled, the claimant would then be permitted to elect to void the claim, rather than take the horse from the test barn.
“If the claimant voids the claim, then the owner who entered the horse in the race and whose representative took the horse to the test barn would continue to be responsible for the horse,” Burns wrote. “The claimant could also decide not to void the claim and may take the horse. This decision would not waive any other objections (e.g., for a post-race positive) that might later be identified” as a possible objection to the claim.
“The proposal is intended to provide further protection for the welfare of racehorses by removing the incentive to enter a horse, prone to such conditions, in the hope the horse might be claimed,” Burns wrote.
“I can tell you that claim races have a higher percentage of fatalities that do non-claiming races for sure,” NYSGC equine medical director Scott Palmer said at the meeting. “Without giving a precise number, I can tell you that more horses experience fatal musculoskeletal injuries in claiming races than in any other type of race at the track.”
The NYSGC has precedent for modifying claiming rules in recent years to promote equine safety.
“In 2013, for example, the commission amended the rules to permit a claimant to void a claim if the horse was vanned from the racetrack,” Burns wrote. “This action followed the recommendation of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety in 2012.”