Young man presents sage document

Ed Martin, the president of Racing Commissioners International, has made some wise moves in the last year.

None was wiser than his hiring Steve May as vice president and business manager of the organization of racing commissioners.

I know May, since he is one of the many bright young men who worked for me at Harness Tracks of America and Harness Racing Communications and moved on to high rank jobs in American racing, harness and Thoroughbred. ]

They include people like Chris McErlean, formerly general manager of racing at the Meadowlands, now with Penn National and president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, and Charlie Leerhsen, who went on to work for Newsweek and became an editor at both People and Sports Illustrated.

He now spends his time writing fascinating books on interesting people and events.

McErlean and Leerhsen and 15 or 16 more like them who attended my “finishing school” – including briefly Steve May – all shared common attributes.

They were smart, inquisitive, restless and aggressive.

And all possessed a trait uncommon with many of today’s college graduates: They could write and spell.

May came to me after the death, at 27, of one of the most promising of all, the brilliant Brody Johnson.

Like Johnson, he was brought to Harness Tracks of America by Paul Estok, the association’s general counsel and now executive vice president.

Paul said, “You’ll like this guy. He’s sharp and interesting.” He was indeed.

Steve was born in Miami, Texas, a west Texas town with a population of 588.

He graduated in 1999 from Amarillo College with an Associate’s Degree in Surgical Technology, then worked in operating rooms in Dallas and in Dayton and Columbus in Ohio.

While there, he graduated from Ohio State with a degree in microbiology.

He went to work in Williamsport, Pa., and a few poker buddies gave him an introduction to horse racing.

After hearing a radio interview with Doug Reed, coordinator of the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona, Steve was enraptured, and enrolled there and graduated last year as the Distinguished Student in the class.

He went to work for Harness Tracks of America, then moved east to Tioga Downs in New York, and then Ed Martin grabbed him for RCI.

This week May issued version 2.01 of the RCI’s Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances and Recommended Penalties and Model Rule.

It is not for reading at the beach or bed. But if you want to see how far an important racing group has come, and where matters now stand, reading the opening and close of the 41-page technical work gives you a good idea.

Reading it all gives you an insight into the complexity of drug testing.

The Preamble, not new, reveals the purpose of the paper: that it “is intended to assist stewards, hearing officers, and racing commissioners in evaluating the seriousness of alleged violations of medication and prohibited substance rules in racing jurisdictions.”

It points out that the exhaustive list of drugs and illegal substances in the subsequent pages are guidelines, not mandates, and are ranked on their pharmacology, their ability to influence the outcome of a race, whether or not they have legitimate therapeutic uses in the racing horse, or other evidence that they may be used improperly.

These classes of drugs are intended only as guidelines and should be employed only to assist persons adjudicating facts and opinions in understanding the seriousness of the alleged offenses.

The facts of each case are always different, and there may be mitigating circumstances which should always be considered.

In a perfect world the recommendations of racing commissioners would be the final word.

But, as you may have noted, we now live in something far less than a perfect world, and the next sentence in the RCI paper reveals why in racing.

Under notes regarding the guidelines, you find this: “Where the use of a drug is specifically permitted by a jurisdiction, then the jurisdiction’s rules supersedes these penalty guidelines.”

That inability to mandate uniform rules is created, of course, by the individual members willingness or ability to follow them. It some cases it is a matter of state law, with commissioners generally reluctant to push too hard for change.

They are, for the most part, political appointees, and vulnerable to the sways and swings of political party and power.

In other cases it is the intransigence of commissioners and others who resent outside intrusion in their state domains.

But the new guidelines can be extremely helpful even with those caveats.

The report ends with four pages of highly detailed and helpful charts that give the RCI’s recommended penalties for licensed trainers and owners, and recent changes.

The charts are broken down by the rating of the drugs deleterious effects, from high to low, on racing performance. In Class 1 offenses, the most serious, the first offense carries a minimum one-year suspension for the trainer, plus a minimum fine of $10,000 or 10 percent of the total purse, whichever is greater.

For owners a first offense would bring disqualification and loss of purse, and sidelining of the horse for 90 days and the requirement to pass a commission-approved examination before being allowed to return to racing.

The report includes eight pages of currently known drugs, their ratings for serious effects, and their recommended penalty class.

If illegal medication interests you – and it should – you can read the full report at