Maryland Puts Steroid Rules On Hold
One month after passing a motion to ban the race day presence of anabolic steroids in horses beginning April 19 -- opening day of the Pimlico spring meet -- the Maryland Racing Commission yesterday scrapped the plans indefinitely for further study.
The racing industry, taking its cues from the congressional push to eliminate the use of steroids in human sports, has been attempting to find consensus for rules that would apply across state racing jurisdictions. Although several states, including Delaware and Pennsylvania, plan to implement steroid regulation this spring, horsemen's groups have objected, arguing there are too many unanswered questions about issues such as withdrawal times, penalties and therapeutic uses. Even whether to test urine or blood samples is being debated.
"We could implement this tomorrow, but we don't know how we're going to test for it . . . or how we're going to pay for it," racing commission chairman John Franzone said. "This isn't going to be an easy one."
A consortium of mid-Atlantic racing commissioners agreed last November to jointly implement rules to ban the race day presence of steroids in horses by this spring, but the group has fractured, and some states have decided to wait while others move ahead.
Franzone announced the creation of a four-member commission task force to study new rules with the goal of implementing a steroid policy by Jan. 1, 2009. He was critical of plans by Delaware and Pennsylvania to start policing steroids without consensus.
"We're all trying to get a common agreement, and they rush off and do their own thing," he said.
Alan Foreman, general counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said that while horsemen and veterinarians agree steroids need to be controlled, much more testing on the effects of use and withdrawal from horses needs to be done.
"Whether you agree or disagree, these are permitted drugs in racing," Foreman said. "Like everything else, there has been some abuse."
Earlier this month, racing industry leaders met with congressional legislative staff members to discuss steroids. Asked if the government spotlight on Major League Baseball and other sports was driving the agenda for racing, Foreman said, "There's no doubt about it." . . . Beginning Feb. 25, Laurel Park will race Thursday through Sunday instead of Wednesday through Saturday, the Maryland Jockey Club announced yesterday. The move comes in an effort to reverse the decline in on-track wagering handle. The winter meet runs through April 13.
-- John Scheinman