It is likely that, by the deadline of June 2, 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott will sign House Bill 239 Florida Race Day Medication which will change Chapter 550.2415, Florida Statutes rather dramatically. Chapter 550.2415 is the “medication statute” under whose direction Florida Thoroughbred horsemen have raced for the last 25 or more years.
Despite the fact it was always up to the Florida Legislature to make any changes to this law, various industry leaders and organizations have freely shared their opinions about Florida being the major “obstructionist” state to the adoption of national uniform medication rules. Sadly, I have heard this constantly at Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) meetings, rehashed to the point that the Jockey Club sent their Executive Vice President to Florida (twice) to meet with the FHBPA and the track veterinarian. We worked through a lot of issues, but still had one issue that was never resolved to my satisfaction, which we will touch on later.
Meanwhile, for the past two years, Gulfstream Park, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (the Florida Chapter of the American Quarter Horse Association) were on board to get legislation passed that would lead to Florida joining the national movement to achieve uniformity in medication rules. Ultimately, the 2015 Florida Legislature agreed unanimously with HB 239 which passed the House 112-0 and the Senate by a 40-0 vote.
So exactly what changes can we expect if this bill becomes law and goes into effect on July 1, 2015? Below, I will review the major revisions to Chapter 550.2415 as they occur in HB 239.
First, language has been changed for drug testing from “immediately prior” to “before” the race to permit testing for gene and blood doping, which can only be detected days before a race and then only has about a two-day “window” for detection after administration.
Second, the fine that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW) can impose for a drug violation has been increased from $5,000 to “an amount not exceeding the purse or sweepstakes earned by the animal . . . or $10,000 whichever is greater.”
Third, the prosecution for a violation of this statute must begin within “90 days” of the drug test positive. The old language gave the DPMW two years to commence prosecution for a violation.
Fourth, the DPMW must now notify the “appropriate horsemen’s association” of all positive drug test results. In these cases, the FHBPA can often explain the horsemen’s rights and assist in choosing a split sample laboratory if necessary.
Fifth, if there is an insufficient quantity for a split sample after the lab has called a positive on the sample, the DPMW can take no further action against the trainer, and the positive is dismissed. In the past, if there was an insufficient quantity for the split sample, the DPMW could take administrative action against the trainer based solely on the Florida Laboratory’s finding.
Sixth, The DPMW “shall require its laboratory . . . to annually participate in an externally administered quality assurance program (QAP) designed to assess testing proficiency in the detection and appropriate quantification of medications, drugs . . . ” Results and findings of this QAP shall be sent to the DPMW and the Florida Department of Agriculture.
Seventh, the DPMW shall adopt the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule which, at the time, established thresholds and withdrawal times for 26 medications (which has now grown to 30 medications). Just about every major racing jurisdiction has adopted these 26 or 30 medications. The science behind some of thresholds and withdrawal times for these medications is suspect, but for the most part it’s a good start towards national uniformity.
Eighth, the Florida laboratory will now be required to include its measurement uncertainty, or laboratory error, in all quantifications of medications which will greatly reduce the low-level findings of our lab that have led to over 150 bute overages and over 250 clenbuterol positives in the past two years.
Ninth, the DPMW shall adopt any laboratory screening levels approved by the ARCI beyond the 26/30 Controlled Therapeutic Medications. If there are none forthcoming from ARCI, Florida could treat these therapeutic medications with zero tolerance testing.
Tenth, prednisolone sodium succinate, better known as Solu-Delta Cortef will no longer be permitted on race day. Florida was the last state with a legal race day medication beyond Lasix. We tried to save it, but to no avail.
Eleventh, the statute that permitted testing of ARCI Class IV and V medications only by Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) that I wrote in 1996 was also deleted from the law by HB 239. We knew this would be inevitable, but it stood up for 19 years.