TOC Presidents Caffeine Report

A report from a well-known expert that encourages the establishment of threshold levels for the declaration of caffeine positives in equine drug tests met with a polite yet uninspired reaction from the Medication Committee of the California Horse Racing Board at its May 8 meeting.

Sponsored by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the report was compiled by Dr. Don Catlin, director of the UCLA Olympic Laboratory and drug testing adviser to the International Olympic Committee. Catlin's study was an outgrowth of caffeine positives in California over the past three years--most of them at extremely low "trace" levels--that resulted in automatic forfeiture of purses.

"What we have here is a very common substance found in nearly everyone's daily life," said John Van de Kamp, president of TOC. "What we are hoping to do with this report is open up the issue to more study, and to try to establish fair criteria that protect the horses, the horsemen, and the racing public."

Catlin pointed out in the report that the Olympic standard for caffeine is 12,000 nanograms per milliliter of urine. Below that level, no positive is called. California, on the other hand, maintains a zero tolerance policy toward any presence of caffeine in an equine post-race test. As a Class 3 substance, a caffeine positive results in automatic forfeiture of a purse.

The report conceded that there has been very little study done on the impact of trace levels of caffeine accidentally entering the system of a racehorse. Catlin noted, however, that "a value of 30 ng/ml is readily defensible and very conservative." CHRB officials balked at the idea.

"Caffeine is a stimulant. We know that for sure," said Dr. Ron Jensen, CHRB equine medical director. "What we don't know is the level at which it is no longer effective in the racehorse as a stimulant."

Stephan Manolakas, Medication Committee chairman, noted that threshold levels must be strongly supported by scientific findings. "There are some states that call themselves zero tolerance, but their needle is set high when it comes to detection, and certain trace amounts are tolerated," Manolakas said.

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