Research Sought on Use of Alcohol in Racehorses

Having gotten field reports that racehorses are receiving vodka intravenously in an attempt to calm them down before races, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) has authorized laboratories to develop a test for alcohol.

The RMTC also plans to increase surveillance at racetracks on days that don't feature major stakes. In 2005, the organization put together "big event teams" to increase security on major racing days at Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse tracks.

RMTC officials and horsemen's representatives said they've heard vodka is being used in horses, but they don't know to what extent. They believe it's injected about four hours prior to a race because it quickly metabolizes and thus becomes difficult to detect.

"There hasn't been a test for it—that's part of the problem," RMTC executive director Scot Waterman, DVM, said. "We feel we can develop a test, and the labs are working on it. We're hearing (alcohol) actually is being used to calm a horse down that might be nervous. They're trying to take off the edge (when a horse is in the paddock)."

When asked if other forms of alcohol such as whiskey could be used for the same purpose, Waterman said the alcohol must be clear like vodka or grain alcohol. He said it's believed the typical dose is about 60 milliliters, or roughly four tablespoons.

Because there's no test for alcohol, it isn't a classified substance under RMTC and Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines.

"It's not a classified agent, but I can almost guarantee it will be classified," Waterman said. "It could be a Class 2 or Class 3 substance. But it will dry up quicker than prohibition if we're able to develop a test for it."

Class 2 and Class 3 substances (Class B under the new RMTC guidelines) could have medical uses but are believed to impact performance.

The RMTC thus far has funded research projects worth $621,000 at six laboratories. RMTC chairman and Jockey Club executive director Dan Fick said the group is close to having a confirmation method for erythropoietin—the blood-doping agent known as EPO—and hopes to develop a detection method for cone snail venom.

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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