Split-Sample Requests Have Impact On Labs

An increase in requests for testing of split samples taken from horses competing in North America--attributable in part to the legalization of clenbuterol--is adding to the workload at drug-testing labs around the country.

Dr. Rick Sams, director of the Analytical Toxicology Laboratory at Ohio State University, said personnel constraints imposed by split-sample testing led to the decision by the institution to no longer perform such tests.

Under rules in most North American racing jurisdictions, connections of horses that test positive in post-race analysis can request to have a portion of the sample sent to an independent laboratory for additional testing. The split-sample tests performed by the second, or "reference," lab are usually more in-depth than the initial testing that led to the positive finding. Most racing commissions maintain lists of approved labs.

In a letter to Roy Wood Jr., executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, Sams said OSU will not accept referee samples from any racing jurisdiction. "I made this decision after careful review of the impact of the demands of referee sample testing upon our laboratory operations," Sams said. "I determined that it was necessary to cease referee sample testing so the laboratory could meet its contractual obligations to the Ohio State Racing Commission and the Ohio Department of Agriculture in a more timely manner."

Under the OSU lab's contract with the CHRB, split samples were to be processed within five days of receipt at the Ohio facility. Sams said the regulatory body was flexible with those deadlines, especially after CHRB sent 15 samples to be tested at one time.

Sams said testing of split samples at OSU required the services of one analyst working at least one day and sometimes two days per sample. Between January and June, OSU had processed 50 split samples.

Sams said the decision to end split-sample testing was unrelated to any controversies surrounding the legalization for training purposes, but not for racing, of the bronchodilator clenbuterol. "This has nothing to do with clenbuterol, other than increasing the volume" of tests, Sams said.

The decision by Ohio State was expected to increase the workload at the some half-dozen other drug-testing labs that face increased requests to perform tests.

Dr. Tom Wood, of Industrial Laboratories in Denver, said private testing firms would be in a better position than a lab at a state institution to handle the split-sample request emanating from the increased requests. Wood said the state labs have an obligation to give priority to the regular testing they perform on behalf of state commissions. Also, private labs are in a better position to add personnel to handle the increased volume, Wood said.

"I am sorry that Ohio State is not taking split samples," Wood said. "Our requests for split samples have increased, and they are taxing for the labs. We just have to prioritize our workload for our clients. It's often a juggling act."

Wood said the cost of a split-sample test ranges from $100-$300, depending on how detailed the test is.

In another matter related to clenbuterol, the CHRB's medication committee may adopt a rule pertaining to pre-race testing. During the board's Aug. 21 meeting, it announced plans to review pre-race testing procedures after a representative of Thoroughbred Owners of California said an owner was denied a request to have such a test performed.

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