MSHRC nixes steroid testing, for now

Posted July 10, 2009, at 11:49 p.m.

It was an unusually short meeting of the Maine State Harness Racing Commission Wednesday as members were updated on the horse supply and voted against steroid testing for horses.

The horse supply is about the same this year as it has been at this point in the season in the last few years and is able to sustain the number of commercial and fair racing dates set.

“We did a quick review of the numbers of dashes and dates through June 21 and it’s indicative that the horse supply is tight, which we have a sneaking suspicion of every year,” said Henry Jackson, MSHRC executive director. “Once we get into additional dashes in July and August, it does alleviate some of the stress, so it was our recommendation to the commission that with management using common sense approaches to the existing supply, there should be no problem with stakes races starting up.

Jackson said one of the primary criteria looked at is the number of “race-backs,” which are horses that race twice or more in a weekend (Friday through Sunday).”

“The horse supply has basically remained constant. The only problem we have is when they [Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs] increase dashes or races,” Jackson said. “This year, their horse supply for Saturdays and Sundays has been more than adequate. So much so Scarborough asked to add dashes on Saturday and Sunday.”

The request was granted, but with the caveat that they can hold 10 per race day and expand the program to as many as 12 races, rather than 12 with an option of as many as 14.

Jackson also had some other information that may directly affect horse supply in the future.

“It’s my understanding that the rate of breeding has gone down the last year or two due to the cost of fuel, grain and hay,” he said. “There have even been a number of horses who have left the state, actually.

“But there has been an increase in the number of younger horses brought in from out of state to race the fair circuit, so one effect is essentially canceling out the other.”

Also, the commission approved the additional race dates Bangor Raceway requested to replace the six early season dates lost after excessive rain and soggy early spring weather postponed opening day by a month to May 8.

The only change was the move of one proposed July date to October to avoid a conflict with the fair racing circuit.

Another key order of business Wednesday was a discussion of and vote on a proposal by the Maine Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association to initiate testing of horses for androgenic-anabolic steroids.

The four commission members in attendance voted 4-0 against adopting the rules and a testing program, but chairman George McHale says that doesn’t mean the commission is against testing.

“That is definitely not the case,” said McHale. “The industry in Maine is in favor of it and so is the commission, but the rule would not be enforceable at the moment because we’re not currently able to do the testing to the degree we would want — accuracy-wise.”

Jackson said rather than initiate a technically flawed system, he advised commission members to wait until lab technology could be upgraded.

“We want to take a wait-and-see approach to gauge if, number one, the levels established are going to be reasonable and, number two, we’re waiting for new equipment to be set up in the state lab we use that can make the tests as accurate as possible.”

“It [the proposal] will be brought up again,” Hale added. “My understanding is the state lab is upgrading its equipment and that would allow us to be able to pass the rule sometime next year.”

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