The Horse

DEC 2018

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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Page 37 of 51

38 December 2018 The Horse | Joseph E. Widener took up the challenge, imported the French saliva test, and began using it at the Miami track. The result was a horsemen's rebellion. Amid growing concerns about the new drug testing procedures and enforcement of the "absolute insurer rule," holding trainers responsible for the condition of horses in their care, the trainers threat- ened a strike for Florida Derby Day. Wid- ener vowed to stage the closing-day card, and when several strike leaders were barred from the track, the races filled. Tests for prohibited medications today are more reliable and sensitive, and the absolute insurer rule remains the princi- pal enforcement tool for assigning respon- sibility after a positive test result. Doping has become more sophisticated as well, however, both at racetracks and at sport horse competitions, and despite an almost perfect record in court, legal challenges to the absolute insurer rule continue. The disqualification of Kentucky Derby winner Dancer's Image in 1968 after testing positive for the anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone led to years of legal challenges and sweeping changes in track security, testing procedures, and enforce- ment. In 2018 a Kentucky court ruled that the state's absolute insurer rule was unconstitutional. An appeal of that deci- sion was pending as of this writing. The Scope of the Drug Problem Taken at face value, horse racing's dop- ing numbers are fine—better than fine, really. In 2014 the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) re- leased one of the most comprehensive re- ports on testing for prohibited substances in the U.S. The RCI reported that 340,932 "biological samples" were sent to testing laboratories around the country in 2013. The results were impressive: From those tests there were only 1,140 medica- tion violations, a "clear rate" of 99.67%. Compared with testing for prohibited substances in human sports, racing's labs tested more samples and still fared slightly better than the United States Anti-Doping Agency (clear rate of 99.55%) and the World Anti-Doping Association (clear rate of 98.97%). Horse racing's clear rate was almost as good two years later, 99.63%, according to 2015 Racing Medication & Testing Consortium (RMTC) statistics. Supporters of racing's current regula- tory scheme could point to the numbers and reasonably ask, "what drug problem?" Skeptics might point to the same numbers and reasonably caution, "not so fast." To make sense of the statistics, we must put them in context. Not every horse in every race is tested. That would be impractical and prohibitively expensive, with the cost of drug tests running as high as $200 or more per horse in some jurisdictions. The Jockey Club reported that 43,139 races were run on the flat and over jumps in the U.S. in 2013. Winners of those races account for at least the same number of tests, and perhaps as many as twice that number because RCI reference to tests on "biological samples" could include blood and urine samples from the same horse in a single race. Also included are tests done on "out-of-competition" samples, rather than on those taken post-race. Every state tests every winner, plus some nonwinners chosen because of suspicious performance. Other horses are chosen for testing at random. A result of this selective testing is that racing's im- pressive clear rate is representative of the population of horses racing or in training, but necessarily incomplete. A compre- hensive clear rate, a number that truly represents how many horses are running with prohibited medications in any given race, might be better or worse than the published numbers. Until racing authori- ties come up with unlimited funds for testing, though, we can't know for sure. This potential discrepancy is not neces- sarily a serious problem, though, says RMTC executive director Dionne Benson, DVM, JD. "The challenge is money," she says—not enough money to cover the laboratory fees and labor costs associ- ated with testing every horse in every race. "Given the inherent restrictions, the goal of drug testing is not to catch every cheater. The goal is to discourage people from cheating in the first place." Testing every winner, plus some non- winners picked at random, along with out-of-competition testing, is a "tactical solution" that keeps the cheaters guess- ing, never knowing whether a horse will wind up in the testing barn after a race. THE MEDICATION CONUNDRUM 1968 Kentucky Derby winner Dancer's Image's disqualication from that race after testing positive for phenylbutazone led to sweeping changes in track security, testing procedures, and enforcement. COURTESY BLOODHORSE LIBRARY

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