The Maryland Racing Commission hopes to have rules in place by next year cracking down on "cheaters" who load up their horses with anabolic steroids, its chairman said yesterday.
"We're going to have some form of regulation," chairman John Franzone said after the commission met yesterday at Laurel Park. "We're shooting to get this in place by January ."
The commission also approved a change yesterday in the live racing schedule at Laurel.
Beginning March 2, the meet will move to a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule instead of the current Wednesday-Saturday.
"I think it's easier to get people out on a Sunday than a Wednesday," Maryland Jockey Club president Chris Dragone said in an interview. "We're thinking it might make a difference after football season."
Many states - including Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - have moved toward banning steroids in racehorses.
"This is a national trend," J. Michael Hopkins, the commission's executive director, told the commissioners, who discussed the issue but deferred action.
Some veterinarians argue there are therapeutic uses for steroids. For example, testosterone can be used to help with muscle cramps.
But Franzone said: "There are guys that are abusing this. You've got a small subset that are cheaters."
Franzone said he was particularly eager to halt a practice known as "stacking," in which horses are placed on a number of steroids simultaneously to try to boost their performances.
Maryland's delay is happening because the state needs to determine how to conduct the tests - blood and urine screens are available - how to structure the rules, and what sorts of penalties to adopt, Franzone said. "There's so much confusion about how you actually test for this," he said.
The rules would need to allow for threshold amounts of substances that occur naturally, such as testosterone.
Some horsemen are pushing for a national approach, arguing that state-by-state rules differences would be confusing for trainers who frequently cross state lines.
Any rules the commission approves would be subject to a public comment period and would take several months to complete. "Right now, we're trying to begin the process," Hopkins said.