California Racehorse Drug Testing Moving Forward

California Racehorse Drug Testing Moving Forward

The CHRB has stepped up drug testing in Southern California with industry cooperation and soon things will be going really high tech with a new focus on biologic markers supported by The Jockey Club.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) has stepped up drug testing in Southern California with industry cooperation and soon things will be going really high tech with a new focus on biologic markers supported by The Jockey Club.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC) hired an additional examining veterinarian for the current meet, while the CHRB appointed a second official veterinarian, which have allowed for increased out-of-competition drug testing—an increasingly important strategy for detecting substances and practices not easily identified through traditional post-race screening.

Rick Baedeker, CHRB executive director, said increased drug testing will continue indefinitely.

The Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) is critical to this effort, as it is considered the preeminent facility of its kind and administers the testing for horses participating at Del Mar, Santa Anita, and all other racetracks in the state. Research is a key component of the Maddy Laboratory's commitment to equine health and safety, and now the lab is breaking new ground by beginning development of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP).

All current drug testing in California horse racing involves collecting samples, mostly blood and urine, and running them through sophisticated equipment to detect unauthorized substances. But there is another way, as well. The fundamental principle of the ABP is to monitor selected biologic variables over time that indirectly reveal the effects of doping rather than attempting to detect the doping substance or method itself. In other words, the lab creates a biological record (an ABP) of an individual athlete and then looks for changes outside of normal values. The changes can involve a number of biological processes, including changes in proteins, genes, and small molecules. Monitoring of these biomarkers could signal that a doping agent had been administered to the athlete.

The California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine recently appointed a second faculty chemist at the Maddy Laboratory to lead their development of methods to combat emerging threats in horse racing, such as anabolic steroids and gene doping. Benjamin Moeller, PhD, Dipl. ABT, an expert in biomarkers with a PhD focused on equine anabolic steroids, will develop the infrastructure to maintain an equine ABP program. This program received a boost last week when The Jockey Club confirmed it would help fund it with grants of $50,000 a year for at least two years.

“We owe it to the public as well as the vast majority of trainers and veterinarians who play by the rules to keep our testing vigilant and state-of-the-art,” said Baedeker. “So, we have doubled the number of out-of-competition tests at Del Mar this season and we are working with UC Davis to pursue the latest technologies for testing.”

Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said California has long been recognized as having a premier medication testing program in the country.

“It is very important to me and the rest of Del Mar's Board of Directors that we maintain this standard and continue to embrace the most up-to-date science available,” he added. “It's of the utmost importance that our sport has a level playing field with the safest possible environment for our horses and riders.”

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More