The racehorse and its supporters have struck a blow to the cheaters on Friday when the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture approved a new rule that would suspend any horse that tests positive for Class 1, 2, or 3 drugs and force their trainers to the sidelines as well.

This was reported by Bill Finley on the Thoroughbred Daily News website (you can click here to read it in its entirety) but I will just give a general break down for the fans that aren’t quite so savvy on some of the terminology.

This kind of action has long been bounced around as a potential deterrent for trainers that cheat and for owners that like to employ those that like to get an illegal edge on their competition. Pennsylvania is believed to be the first state to actually put their money where their mouth is and implement the rule.

Brett Revington, the bureau director of Standardbred racing for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, told the Harness Racing Update (harness racing’s equivalent to the BloodHorse) that this rule is modeled after regulations that are being used in Ontario, Canada. His primary point being that since racing in the state heavily depends on revenue from the slot machines, lawmakers need to see that regulators are doing everything in their power to try and make sure that the sport is a clean one.

The Thoroughbred branch of the racing commission in Pennsylvania, has of course, said nothing about this issue and calls from the TDN went unanswered…gee, I wonder why. The ruling impacts both Standardbred and Thoroughbred communities; though, it can be argued that the Thoroughbred industry is going to have a harder time cleaning house if precedents does anything to indicate on how some regulators will respond to this news.

The Standardbred community and Thoroughbred horseman, however, have embraced this with a full head of steam.

(The politicians) are happy that we are being proactive on a number of new initiatives…we’ve had 100 percent support from our commission, stakeholders, and horseman’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 it’s very good to see. -quote from Brett Revington to the TDN

Here are how the penalties will be enforced and under what conditions:

  • 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
  • Class 3 or high TCO2 positives will be a 30 day racing ban
  • If the horse tests positive in another state, it is subject to the same rules if the owner wishes to race anywhere in Pennsylvania
  • To see what the different classes are and what they mean in terms of their ban, click here.

Unfortunately, since states around them haven’t enacted similar policies, the cheater can still race in other districts. However, it does help gain momentum for the push for a unified set of rules; a push that the Thoroughbred industry is currently spearheading.

Todd Mostoller, the executive director of the Pennsylvania HBPA (they represent horseman at Penn National), agreed with this new ruling, but said that the regulators will have to act with common sense; something that no one is arguing. He was adamant though, that Pennsylvania will be at the forefront of the issue.

…the testing is so sensitive these days that we could have horses winding up being suspended when no one did anything wrong… 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. -Todd Mostoller

To explain further, Epogen was originally made to  treat human diseases like anemia, when red blood cell counts are too low. At some point, it snaked its way into the industry and while there is a test for it, it’s safe to assume that some lying disgrace to the veterinary practice or an unethical trainer has figured out a way to beat the test. You can read more about the origin of EPO in racing at the Paulick Report.

However, it’s not just the representatives that are applauding this decision. Butch Reid, a prominent trainer based at Parx and a board member of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which represents the local horsemen, also had shining praise for the decision.

I’m just hearing about this, but at first blush I would say it is a good rule…it’s just been too easy to just put [horses that had been racing for trainers who receive 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 [that] they are trying to give the rulings more bite. I’m all for anything that can be done to clean up the sport and clean up the integrity of our facility, too. -Butch Reid

A longstanding problem for the Thoroughbred industry is much of what Mr. Reid mentioned: main trainer gets suspended and the assistant is put as trainer on record. He’s still not pulling the shots, but the horse still gets to race and everyone still makes money, “penalty” or not.

Pennsylvania is going in the right direction and I encourage people to visit and wager on their races more than ever.  Money talks after all, so let’s make sure that the tracks and states that are doing everything they can to make the sport cleaner, safer and fairer for all get the most for their ethical choices.

Thank you, Pennsylvania Racing, for doing your part to keep our great sport alive and safe.