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Belmont Stakes: New York a standard-setter on medications

June 3, 2021 GMT
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Belmont Stakes entrant Rock Your World, center, is walked towards the main track for a training run ahead of the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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Belmont Stakes entrant Rock Your World, center, is walked towards the main track for a training run ahead of the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK (AP) — When Bob Baffert was banned from entering horses in the Belmont Stakes, it was the latest example of the New York Racing Association taking a strong stand on medications.

Long before Baffert-trained Medina Spirit failed a post-Kentucky Derby drug test, New York has been one of the industry’s leaders in testing, mandatory medication reporting and documentation. When the H orse Racing Safety and Integrity Act goes into effect next summer, there’s a good chance it includes elements of policies New York has pioneered over the past decade.

“New York, NYRA and other stakeholders in New York, not unlike California and some in Kentucky, have been leaders in pushing for this reform, and so I’m very hopeful to continue to work with them closely and whether it’s the collection processes or the labs or the results management process that they utilize,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said. “Our hope is to borrow the good pieces that are there, to implement those into the program overall but obviously fill in the gaps because there’s a lot of gaps to be filled.”

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Horse racing has been in the spotlight because of many of those gaps. Baffert’s five medication violations in 13 months pale in comparison to the charges levied against trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro, who were among 27 people indicted in 2020 in a widespread international scheme to drug horses to make them race faster.

Servis and Navarro took advantage of racing in states with more lax regulations, and one intent of the new law is to standardize rules across the sport. New York is setting some of those standards by requiring trainers to report corticosteroid injections, transfer veterinary records when ownership changes and implementing out-of-competition testing that safety authority chairman Charles Scheeler said will be a major emphasis.

Dr. Mary Scollay, executive director of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium, pointed out New York was the first to do corticosteroid injection reporting and how pivotal the the state’s other measures are going forward.

“I certainly think the transfer of medical information from the previous ownership to the claimant is important,” Scollay said. “I am confident that the new authority will require treatment reporting into some sort of a database. Hopefully that would be on a national basis.”

Scollay credits Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association chairman and CEO Alan Foreman for many of those initiatives, which he said dates to a major safety investigation almost a decade ago that led to 38 reforms in Mid-Atlantic states. New York took it a step further by regulating when drugs and cannot be administered to horses.

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The result is fatalities being cut by 58% and what Foreman called New York’s lowest positivity rate on drug tests in decades, including zero positives all last year.

“You’re talking thousands of tests here, thousands of races and they don’t have a single trainer in New York who has ever gotten a multiple medication violation penalty,” Foreman said. “It’s a collective effort in the Mid-Atlantic of which New York is an active participant and in many cases helps to take the lead.

The New York State Gaming Commission also makes Belmont horses’ medical records public, a kind of transparency that’s missing from much of the horse racing industry.

Trainer Doug O’Neill, who found out firsthand about New York’s stringent regulations with I’ll Have Another at the 2012 Belmont when a quarantine barn was used to closely observe horses, would like to see more prerace testing to avoid situations like Medina Spirit winning and testing positive after the fact.

“That way if a horse did happen to have a legal therapeutic but it was at a high level, he’s got to scratch,” said O’Neill, who’s saddling Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont on Saturday. “If your horse accidentally holds on to some ointment that he shouldn’t, you’re like ‘Son of a gun,’ and you scratch and you protect the horse, the connections, the bettors and you don’t have a black eye that you do the way our testing is.”

Scheeler said Wednesday the safety authority and USADA are still early in the process of formulating rules on testing and other elements.

“We’re much more in the embryonic stage than the fully-formed product and we’re going to take an awful lot of input from all the constituencies across racing before we come to any final conclusions about what a particular standard’s going to be,” Scheeler said.

While Scheeler didn’t want to comment on any jurisdiction’s rules, Foreman hopes the safety commission pays attention to what has been done in New York and around the region.

“We don’t see it as a heavy lift,” he said. “A lot of what will be adopted as national standards we’re already doing.”

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Follow AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhynoHorses

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