Drug rules throw scare into Colonial Md. trainers' threat forces quick action

September 10, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Facing a boycott by Maryland trainers that could have crippled Colonial Downs, the Virginia Racing Commission met by telephone in emergency session yesterday to eliminate disparities in the two states' drug regulations.

The hastily arranged telephone meeting occurred after Maryland trainers threatened to hold their horses out of races at Colonial Downs, the track near Richmond that opened Labor Day. As part of a Maryland-Virginia racing circuit, the survival of Colonial Downs depends on the participation of Maryland horses.

Maryland trainers objected because Virginia regulations did not permit anti-bleeding medications routinely used in Maryland and other states. On Sunday at Colonial Downs, several horses racing without the drugs bled from their lungs and performed below expectations.

"After that, most trainers said: 'I'm not going to send a horse to Virginia under those medication rules,' " said Donald Barr, a trainer based at Laurel Park. "They said they'd run their horses someplace else or wait until racing comes back to Maryland."

Lenny Hale, racing secretary at Colonial Downs, said a boycott by Maryland trainers would have jeopardized racing at Virginia's first pari-mutuel track.

"I imagine it would have pretty much put us out of business, or limited us to running a few races and simulcasting the rest of the time," Hale said.

Until yesterday, Virginia's regulations permitted only the use of Lasix, a common drug that reduces bleeding in racehorses.

Such bleeding is called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which means bleeding from the lungs during intensive exercise. Most racehorses bleed to a degree that hinders breathing and prevents peak performance.

In Maryland, the racing commission permits the use of Lasix as well as other anti-bleeding drugs, such as Amicar.

Combining the drugs improves efficiency and reduces the amount of Lasix -- a good thing, trainers and veterinarians say, because Lasix can cause dehydration and prevent a horse's timely return to the races.

Two Maryland veterinarians working at Colonial Downs during its six-week meet -- Nick Meittinis and Bob Vallance -- said that Maryland's policy evolved through the years, never straying from its primary objectives: the well-being of horses and the integrity of racing.

"We have one of the more stringent regulations," Meittinis said. "And our chemist is the best in the business."

The chemist, Thomas F. Lomangino Jr., an employee of the Maryland Racing Commission, tests urine and blood samples of racehorses in Maryland and Virginia for excessive levels of legal drugs and for illegal drugs that could affect a horse's performance.

According to participants in yesterday's telephone meeting, the Virginia Racing Commission adopted its drug regulations a couple of years ago -- before Maryland permitted such drugs as Amicar.

Virginia commissioners meant all along to adopt similar regulations; it's just that they didn't update theirs after Maryland did -- until yesterday.

Late yesterday afternoon, Virginia Gov. George Allen signed the new regulations. Hale, the racing secretary, was relieved. First thing this morning, he said, he and his staff will finish filling races for Friday's card.

"It's back to business as usual," Hale said.

Pub Date: 9/10/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.