Medication and $1 Million Races in New York: Diagnosis Required

On May 21, the New York State Gaming Commission released the security procedures for the horses entered in four of the six Grade I races on Belmont Day: the Manhattan, the Met Mile, the Ogden Phipps, and the Belmont Stakes.  Such procedures are put in place for races worth more than $1 million, according to a Gaming Commission spokesperson, speaking several years ago when these security measures were first put in place.

Similar measures were in effect during the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack in April and at New York’s $1 million races over the last several years; among the requirements for Saturday’s races, according to a Gaming Commission press release, are that horses are on the grounds by noon yesterday and that all medications given to horses are recorded and submitted to the Gaming Commission.

Thoroughbred racing has come under fire in recent years for what is described by some as excessively permissive medication rules; although reform is underway, progress is slow, and in March, The Jockey Club threatened to pursue federal oversight of the sport if stricter rules were not more quickly implemented.

Among the organizations working for reform is the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, whose executive director and COO Dr. Dionne Benson told The Racing Biz in April that although 26 medications are approved for use in racehorses, the expectation is not that they will be used routinely, but that all medical treatment will be based on a veterinary diagnosis.

And in a tweet directed to veterinarians caring for horses running in this weekend’s $1 million races at Belmont, the Gaming Commission announced that it is requiring just that.

“[Veterinary] records must…include the date, time, diagnosis, and treatment…NOTE: “Diagnosis” must include the medical condition for which the treatment is being administered. “Pre-race,” “Routine,” “Treatments,” or a lack of diagnosis is not acceptable for the purposes of reporting medication administered to horses in the 3 days leading up to the race.”  [Emphasis theirs]

In short order, a racing fan asked, “So will they not give the meds or make things up?”

A quick look at the records for the Wood Memorial participants reveals that few contained actual diagnoses, and that the now-unacceptable terminology listed above appeared regularly.

Last night, the Gaming Commission posted vet records for the horses entered in this weekend’s $1 million races (though, contrary to what was announced on May 21, not all horses entered in these races are on New York Racing Association grounds), and will do so each day through Saturday.

(According to the DRF’s Marty McGee, Medal Count and General a Rod were due to arrive Thursday afternoon, in the second example of a little known/unwritten “you can ask for an exception and it’s up to the stewards” practice of this Triple Crown season.)

The Gaming Commission did not respond to two requests for further information, including whether listed diagnoses would be verified, and what would result from a trainer failing to list a diagnosis.

Will requiring a diagnosis affect what medications/substances are given to horses in the next few days? Is the requirement a step forward in meaningful medication oversight and reform, or only the appearance of same?

What is certain is that over the last few year, the much-maligned Gaming Commission, né the Racing and Wagering Board, has created a useful, easily navigable website and instituted processes and protocols to offer the racing public heretofore unheard-of levels and types of information.

Is it perfect? No. But it’s a great start.

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