JC / Railbird

Drugs in Racing

The Hong Kong Model

Eric Mitchell interviews Dr. Christopher Riggs, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s top veterinarian, about the on-track pharmacy system there. Despite differences in how horses are trained and stabled in Hong Kong vs. America, it’s an enlightening exchange, particularly re: specific questions that vets have raised in response to racetrack owner Frank Stronach’s proposed reforms.

The Target

Trainer Rusty Arnold defends Steve Asmussen:

The two medications alluded to in the video (Lasix and thyroid powder) are both legal to have and legal to use. So, what crime has Steve committed?

None, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? The indiscriminate dosing of horses with unnecessary drugs has become routine. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

No Trace

When Kentucky mandated last year that state veterinarians give pre-race Lasix shots, in place of private vets, the results were eye-opening, reports Ryan Goldberg in the final installment of TDN’s drugs in racing series (PDF):

Besides the volume of Lasix [which declined], murkier drugs largely disappeared from post-race tests. Scollay said she had seen evidence that a drug called GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, was commonplace in Kentucky. The amino acid, which is present in the supplement “Carolina Gold,” is endogenous to horses as well as humans — it’s the predominant receptor blocker in the central nervous system. It has a pain-mitigating and calming effect that can conserve a horse’s energy prior to a race. However, because it’s naturally occurring and leaves a horse’s system within three to four hours, finding suspicious levels in post-race tests is difficult.

Its use in Kentucky was apparently curtailed once regulatory vets came in. The “noise” in post-race samples all but departed. Lasix is administered within four hours of a race; private vets were apparently giving GABA at the same time. There was no trace.

Wow. I wonder if the same thing happened in New York after the NYRA detention barn — in which horses were monitored for six hours before a race and only state vets could administer Lasix — opened in 2005, and if the concentration of Lasix in the blood, as well as the presence of other drugs or supplements in test samples, rebounded after it closed in 2010?

Tarnished Encke

The British Horseracing Authority released on Monday the results of tests done on all Godolphin-owned racehorses based in Newmarket, revealing that seven additional horses trained by the now-suspended Mahmood al Zarooni turned up positive for steroids — including the 2012 St. Leger winner Encke. That name atop the list was explosive, immediately raising the question of whether Camelot, second in the St. Leger, lost the Triple Crown to a horse who may have been treated with banned substances. Encke tested clean before and after the race last September, but the question will linger, writes Greg Wood:

And, thanks to the poisonous nature of anabolic steroids, which leave suspicions lingering when all traces of the drug have gone, it is a question that will probably never have an answer.

For Paul Hayward, Encke’s positive:

is a disaster all by itself. It casts doubt on a whole season of Flat racing and requires an asterisk to be placed next to the final Classic of 2012.

Encke will not be disqualified, said the BHA. “There is absolutely no evidence at all that [he] was gaining benefit from prohibited substances in the St Leger.”

It’s a determination that must be accepted, unless new details emerge about Zarooni’s operation at Moulton Paddocks (the investigation is ongoing).

American racing fans know the uncertainty, even if the situations are different: Big Brown’s 2008 run for the Triple Crown, and his baffling performance in the Belmont Stakes, was also clouded by the issue of (then legal) steroids.

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