Anti-Doping Regulation Challenges in International Racing

Anti-Doping Regulation Challenges in International Racing

Racehorse anti-doping regulations can vary, sometimes significantly, from one country to another. Such inconsistency could hinder the sport's global growth, said one international racing scientific expert.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

With no international governing body controlling doping in racehorses, anti-doping regulations can vary, sometimes significantly, from one country to another. Such inconsistency could hinder the sport's global growth, said one international racing scientific expert.

“International races (with racehorses from different countries competing) cannot be all that attractive if they are conducted in different countries according to different rules,” said Terence S.M. Wan, PhD, EurChem, CSci, CChem, FRSC, FAORC, FFSSoc, head of the racing laboratory and chief racing chemist at The Hong Kong Jockey Club. “The harmonization and ultimately standardization of the rules (including those for doping control) will facilitate the globalization of horse racing.”

Wan and Jenny K.Y. Wong, PhD, CSci, CChem, MRSC, MAORC, also of The Hong Kong Jockey Club Racing Laboratory, recently completed a review of the current status of doping control analyses in horse racing worldwide. They explored sample collection, sample analysis techniques, inconsistencies among countries, and related challenges.

While many countries have adopted some or all of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities' (IFHA) anti-doping recommendations, others have not, Wan said. The IFHA acts as a centralizing unit, but it is not a governing authority. And its recommendations to its member countries worldwide are suggestions, not requirements.

To date, 38 countries have fully adopted Article 6A—which focuses on prohibited substances and anti-doping—of the IFHA’s International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering (IABRW). Eight additional countries have partially adopted it, Wan said.

Even so, Article 6A provides a broad definition of what a “prohibited substance” is, he said. This has allowed for a vast interpretation of what is prohibited and what isn’t from one country to another.

Furthermore, there is no official standardization on thresholds, screening methods, screening limits, or what to do with the Sample B—the “verification” sample veterinarians use to reconfirm a test result should the A sample come up positive. Currently, the IABRW lists thresholds for 10 substances, including arsenic, testosterone, hydrocortisone, and salicylic acid, but, again, these recommendations are not official requirements.

Likewise, three organizations—the IFHA, the European Horseracing Scientific Liaison Committee (EHSLC), and the Asian Racing Federation (ARF)—have developed screening limits, which control detection sensitivity. However, the EHSLC has kept its screening limits confidential. The IFHA has published screening limits, and the ARF intends to. Again, individual racing authorities are free to adopt these screening limits or not, and not all authorities choose to do so.

Screening methods “vary immensely” from one laboratory to another, Wan said, and in most cases Sample B is sent to a second laboratory, but in some countries it can be tested in the same laboratory. In certain parts of the world, “retroactive” screening is allowed, meaning stored samples can be tested several years later as technology improves and possibly resulting in retroactive sanctions.

To ensure the sport’s international success, authorities need to strive toward more unification in managing the substance misuse, Wan opined.

“Doping is becoming a major issue affecting the integrity of this sport and the confidence of the participants and various stakeholders,” he said. “Efforts and resources allocated to control doping are often insufficient, especially in the face of the emerging biological drugs. International collaboration among regulatory officials and scientists to jointly tackle this difficult issue is obviously the preferred approach given the limited resources.”

Drug abuse in racehorses is, of course, also a serious ethical concern with regard to the animals, he added.

“Doping and the indiscriminate or inappropriate use of medications are detrimental not only to the integrity of the sport of horse racing but also to the health, welfare, and safety of the racehorses, who cannot refuse such maltreatments themselves,” Wan said. “Many doping agents are toxic or produce undesirable adverse effects. The overuse of medications is also harmful and dangerous. Besides doping, the misuse of medications should also be controlled effectively.”

The study, "Doping control analyses in horseracing: A clinician's guide," will appear in an upcoming issue of The Veterinary Journal

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners