By Bill Finley
Beginning Oct. 1, horses that test positive for Class 1, 2 or 3 drugs in Pennsylvania will be forced to the sidelines, suspended along with their trainers. Suspending horses has often been brought up as a possible deterrent to trainers using performance-enhancing drugs and from owners employing trainers they suspect may be taking illegal edges to win races. But Pennsylvania is believed to be the first state to ever implement such a rule.
The new rule was approved Friday.
Brett Revington, the bureau director for Standardbred racing for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, told Harness Racing Update that the rules were modeled after regulations put in place in Ontario and noted that states like Pennsylvania, where racing depends heavily on revenue from slot machines, need to let lawmakers know that regulators are doing everything within their power to oversee a clean sport.
“(The politicians) are happy that we are being proactive on a number of new initiatives,” Revington told HRU. “We've had 100 percent support from our commission, our stakeholders and horsemen's groups. It definitely helps and hopefully we've got a few new pieces in place and we are moving in the right direction…We are all pulling the same weight right now and that's very good to see.”
Tom Chukas, who heads the Thoroughbred branch of the Pennsylvania Racing Commission, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Horses that test positive for Class 1 or Class 2 drugs will be ineligible to race for 90 days, starting from the date that the positive is confirmed by a split sample. Horses with Class 3 positives or high TCO2 readings will be banned from racing for 30 days. Additionally, horses testing positive in other states will be subject to the same rules and temporarily banned from racing in Pennsylvania. Unless other states enact similar rules, there doesn't appear to be anything preventing an owner with a horse that tested positive in Pennsylvania from racing it in another jurisdiction.
“Pennsylvania is going to be at the forefront of this and we'll see where it takes us,” said Todd Mostoller, the executive director of the Pennsylvania HBPA, which represents horsemen at Penn National. “It could prove to be beneficial, but it's very important that the commission takes a commonsense approach when it comes to this. The testing is so sensitive these days that we could have horses winding up being suspended when no one did anything wrong. You have someone urinate in a stall and who knows what can happen. But as long as they use a commonsense approach, I believe this is the right thing to do. If someone has a positive test for something like Epogen– something that shouldn't be in the horse and is not something used by humans–yes, I believe this is a proper penalty. We all understand how important integrity issues are.”
Butch Reid, a prominent trainer based at Parx and a board member of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents local horsemen, applauded the commission for the move.
“I'm just hearing about this, but at first blush I would say it is a good rule,” he said. “It's just been too easy to just put [horses that had been racing for trainer who receives a suspension] in someone else's name. Because of that, the penalties have no bite to them at all. They're not putting the fear of God into anybody with the rulings the way they are. I appreciate the fact they are trying to give the rulings more bite. I'm all for anything the can be done clean up the sport and clean up the integrity of our facility, too.”