Delaware, Lab Work to Improve Racehorse Drug Test Turnaround

Delaware, Lab Work to Improve Racehorse Drug Test Turnaround

Formerly called HFL Sport Science, LGS began testing urine and blood samples taken from horses at Delaware Park for the 2014 race meet.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

The Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission (DTRC) is working with LGS laboratory in Lexington, Kentucky, to facilitate quicker turnaround for equine drug test results.

Formerly called HFL Sport Science, LGS began testing urine and blood samples taken from horses at Delaware Park, in Wilmington, for the 2014 race meet. The lab is one of a handful that is accredited by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC).

Horsemen recently indicated there were issues not long after the meet began May 17 with a slow turnaround for test results—sometimes a month—and subsequently purse checks were delayed. They said there were up to 30 "cloudy" tests at one point, most likely the result of enhanced testing protocol, but support better drug testing.

John Wayne, DTRC executive director, said July 22 he and other officials met with LGS representatives in late June to express concerns over the delays, which have been reported in Indiana and Kentucky as well. LGS representatives said issues related to equipment and personnel changes led to the slowdown.

Wayne also met with LGS officials the week of July 6 in Lexington.

"It has been painstakingly slow getting confirmation reports," said Wayne, who noted three of the samples in question came back positive for therapeutic substances and were sent to other labs for split-sample tests at the request of horsemen. "There have been delays, but the level of detection at that lab has been unprecedented."

The DTRC was among the first to adopt the National Uniform Medication Program and began using it this year at Delaware Park. Protocol includes streamlined testing thresholds for 26 therapeutics medications; horsemen were aware of the changes months before the meet began, but there have been some complications.

The Delaware Park overnight now includes a notice to horsemen on use of the muscle relaxant methocarbomal, a drug that has a 48-hour withdrawal time under RMTC guidelines. A few of the positives in Delaware were for methocarbomal.

The notice states that if used in conjunction with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication phenylbutazone, known as Bute, "the recommended withdrawal time is inaccurate." It recommends horsemen consult with veterinarians regarding pre-race treatments.

The advisory stemmed from a similar one at Parx Racing, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, where there were three methocarbomal positives before the notice was posted. Horsemen said the RMTC has been notified of the issue.

As for the lab, Wayne said the DTRC is "frustrated" with the delays but is working with the lab. He also said "anyone with a clean test had their purse money released."

Horsemen at Delaware Park said there are trainers and owners still waiting for test results and purse payments, and that in some cases claimed horses have been affected. On May 21 a horse trained by Juan Vazquez was claimed by trainer Michael Pino; the horse subsequently tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol, but the split sample still hasn't been returned. Pino would have the option to void the claim if the positive is upheld.

Rick Sams, PhD, lab director at LGS, said he fielded questions from the DTRC, Delaware Park, and the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association during the June 26 meeting. He said the situation has since improved.

"We heard the frustration of the trainers in attendance," Sams said July 22. "We understand that purses are not paid until final reports are issued and recognize that a delay in reports prevents purses from being paid.

"We have hired additional personnel, we have reassigned personnel within the laboratory, we have acquired additional instrumentation, and we have modified some processes to make them more efficient all in an effort to reduce the time required to issue reports without sacrificing quality."

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About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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