ARCI Panel Discusses How to Stop Cheating in Horse Racing

ARCI Panel Discusses How to Stop Cheating in Horse Racing

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Increased out-of-competition drug testing, investing in additional investigators and research into emerging threats are the most effective ways to catch—and, more importantly, deter—cheating in horse racing.

That was the main take-home message from the drug-testing forum on opening day of the Association of Racing Commissioners International’s (ARCI) 83rd annual Conference on Equine Welfare and Racing Integrity, taking place at in Charleston, South Carolina.

The panel featured:

  • Scott Stanley, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, K.L. Maddy Equine Analytical Laboratory, which conducts that state’s horseracing testing;
  • Anthony Fontana, PhD, of Truesdail Laboratories, in Irvine, California;
  • Speaking via teleconference, George Maylin, DVM, PhD, the longtime director of the New York Equine Drug Testing and Research Laboratory, in Morrisville; and
  • Brice Cote, a former Standardbred driver and detective in New Jersey State Police’s racetrack unit who heads the integrity efforts at The Meadowlands, Tioga, and Vernon Downs harness tracks.

Even if the panelists expressed varying beliefs on the prevalence of rule violators, they all emphasized the importance of out-of-competition testing—taking samples from horses in between races—as a way to detect substances that don’t appear in traditional blood or urine tests from samples taken immediately after a race but still could have an impact on a horse’s performance.

"The only way we're going to stop this is by intelligence-based policing and out-of-competition testing," Cote said.

After the forum, Stanley said, “Most jurisdictions have very good drug testing. We do robust testing, and most of the labs are accredited as well. Now we look at big challenges. And when you look at big challenges, you can make those mountains into molehills, or you can take them off one at a time and get them knocked down. We are doing both. We are taking the ones that have legitimate concerns for the industry, like cobalt when that came up. We found that, set a threshold, established rules, and made that go away—quickly. Steroids (and) anabolic and corticosteroids, those now are well-regulated. This are big wins for the industry. They weren’t low-hanging fruit either. We still have some challenges that have now climbed the tree, they’re higher up. And we need to knock those off.”

Stanley discussed the potential of “biological passports”—which are in their infancy of development for horses—that could be used in out-of-competition testing. The testing would provide a baseline result to which subsequent testing (both pre-race and between races) could be compared.

“If they change abruptly, if the biomarkers tell us this horse was given an anabolic agent, we don’t have to detect it,” he said of the exact substance. “We’d be able to say, ‘This horse cannot naturally produce this profile. It has to be enhanced.’”

Added ARCI president Ed Martin, “Informed testing, focused testing, and targeting testing is something we need to put more emphasis on. Out-of-competition testing should be expanded, but it’s real value doesn’t come until you’ve expended the research dollars to be able to detect the substances not being detected in the existing out-of-competition testing.”

Also on Tuesday, a panel of administrative veterinarians discussed keeping horses’ treatment records and the trust issues that arise among equine practitioners, horsemen, and regulators as to proper use.

Scott Palmer, VMD, Dipl. ABVP, New York’s equine medical director, said regulators getting horses’ treatment records can benefit horsemen and veterinarians because of the research made possible. He noted that methylprednisolone acetate (also known as Depo-Medrol) was the most popular corticosteroid used in joint injections up until 2012. It wasn’t known at the time, but researcher have since learned that the medication could pool in other tissue and stick around longer when used in hocks and stifles, Palmer said.

“We discovered that Depo-Medrol could be found in the joint in a blood test of a horse as long as 100 days after the administration period,” he said. “The idea that you go on the (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium) guidelines and see 21 days for Depo-Medrol is a risky business. It wasn’t accurate, because there was such a variation in the amount of time that the Depo-Medrol would be discoverable in a post-race blood test.”

Palmer said that, with what was learned from knowing the location of injections and the timing of administration, veterinarians were cautioned about using Depo-Medrol in the first place. He said that today in New York if a veterinarian uses Depo-Medrol, the horse must be tested for the substance before running.

“That’s a good example how we can use the research findings from the medical records, the treatment records to protect people and help create a better regulatory policy,” Palmer said.

Additionally, a morning panel brought various perspectives on how to promote the good in horse racing while not ignoring issues facing the sport.

Committee recommends banning clenbuterol for Quarter Horses

Meanwhile, the Quarter Horse Racing Committee voted 5-3 to recommend amending the ARCI model rule to prohibit the bronchodilator clenbuterol in Quarter Horse and mixed-breed races, with testing in blood serum and plasma, urine and hair permitted. The recommendation now goes to the Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee for consideration, then the Model Rules Committee and ultimately the ARCI board, if approved at each step.

Clenbuterol is a useful therapeutic medication to treat respiratory ailments, but some trainers have begun abusing it due to its ability to build muscle mass. This sparked American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) officials to request that it be completely banned in their breed. The abuse is not seen with Thoroughbreds, for which such muscle build-up could impede running that breed’s longer distances, officials said.

The AQHA officials requested that the rule be breed-specific. “We don’t feel it is our job to take it away from other breeds,” said Janet VanBebber, the AQHA’s chief racing officer. “But we readily acknowledge that there is abuse within our breed of the sport.”

The three racing jurisdictions voting against the recommendation said they thought it should be banned for all breeds.

Wagner to players: ‘Regulators do strive to get it right’

Judy Wagner, outgoing ARCI chair and horse racing’s “First Lady of Handicapping,” had a message for her fellow horseplayers.

Wagner is the 2001 National Horseplayers Championship winner, the horse-players’ representative on the board of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the vice chair of the Louisiana Racing Commission. With her one-year term as ARCI chair ending Thursday, she’ll hand the baton to chair-elect Jeff Colliton of the Washington Horse Racing Commission.

“As a horseplayer—and this is a message that I want to get across to horse players: Regulators do strive to get it right,” she told the audience. “We really want to make the players, everybody in the industry, feel that we have an industry of integrity.

“Let handicappers know that they have a product that they can respect; they don’t have to handicap the rumors that this trainer is doping horses or whatever. And saying that, I wish that we could educate the public that there is a difference between D-O-P-E and legal medication to help the horse. There is a place for therapeutic drugs.”

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