Race-Day Clenbuterol Could be Barred in Maryland

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Sarah Andrew

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Clenbuterol that is detectable in any amount on race day could be on its way out in 2021 for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds in Maryland.

Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) voted unanimously Oct. 22 to propose a new rule that would eliminate the allowable race-day threshold for clenbuterol, citing concerns that the bronchodilator medication has the potential for abuse as a substance that delivers similar results as anabolic steroids, like promoting an increase in lean muscle mass.

Currently, Maryland horses are allowed to trigger up to 140 picograms/milliliter in blood serum on race day without incurring a violation.

“The proposal is to eliminate the threshold altogether and make clenbuterol not permissive at all on race day in horses competing in Maryland,” said J. Michael Hopkins, the MRC’s executive director.

Citing a veterinary study, Hopkins added that “if it’s used long enough in small doses, it does have the ability to have a steroidal effect for the horses that receive it on a regular basis.”

Under Maryland’s proposed new plan, clenbuterol would still be allowed as a therapeutic medication to treat obstructive airways disease. But a horse’s veterinarian would have to submit a specific diagnosis and prescription plan to the MRC’s equine medical director prior to treatment. Trainers would have the responsibility of submitting this notification, Hopkins said, and any horse on clenbuterol will remain on the veterinary no-race list until a negative urine or blood test is provided to document clearance of the drug from the horse’s system.

Hopkins said the MRC would have the right to perform out-of-competition (OOC) testing on horses to check for unauthorized clenbuterol use. But he explained that the commission does not currently have the right to test horses stabled on private property without consent. In cases where the property owner or the horse’s owner or trainer refused to grant access, Hopkins said the commission would have to arrange with the owner or trainer to bring the horse elsewhere to conduct the testing.

Commissioner R. Thomas Bowman took umbrage with that aspect of the OOC protocol. He said that, “I don’t really follow the logic in that, because by the time that you were to arrange for a meeting, I assume that the drug would probably have cleared from the animal’s system…. So I think it’s a little bit of a tiger without teeth.”

But because the rule is just at its proposal stage, there is time for the MRC to re-examine how it handles OOC testing. Hopkins said that following Thursday’s approval of the proposal, it will take about three months for the rule to pass through the regulatory process and public commentary period before the MRC takes a final vote on the matter.

Hopkins said other racing jurisdictions in the region could soon follow Maryland’s lead on barring clenbuterol on race day.

“This regulation has also been discussed in the mid-Atlantic area as recently as last week,” Hopkins said.

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