The Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit (HIWU) provided this Q&A with questions submitted by Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud.
Although I’ve read explanations and have had people try to explain it to me I still don’t understand why we test to such a small level. As I understand it a picogram is one-trillionth of a gram. How can that have any effect on a 1200-lb horse? Why do we test to such a small level? Are we using the ARCI recommended guidelines?
It is important to remember that a picogram is a measure of weight, not potency. While some legal drugs are more potent and are administered in low doses, others are less potent and require larger doses to achieve their intended effects. This is why the Screening Limits used by HISA are different depending on the substance.
It is also important to note that substance concentrations are reported “per milliliter.” Thus, the picogram amounts you read in a lab report must be multiplied by approximately 50,000 to reflect the total milliliters of blood that can be found in a horse.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act requires HISA to adopt the standards used by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), which are followed in nations around the world and independent of the ARCI’s guidance, as a starting point. The IFHA’s Screening Limits and Thresholds are vetted by the European Horseracing Scientific Liaison Committee, which is composed of veterinary pharmacologists, regulatory veterinarians, chemists, and other racing regulators, before being approved by the IFHA. There are certain substances, e.g., phenylbutazone, for which the ADMC Standing Committee decided to deviate from the IFHA’s published recommendations based on additional science and industry-specific insight.
Everyone agrees the ultimate goal is to keep honest people honest and dishonest people afraid to break the rules. And that the objective is not to penalize trainers and owners that make honest inconsequential mistakes but rather catch the cheaters. Are we doing enough to catch the cheaters and those taking advantage of the system? The objective isn’t to penalize honest trainers and subsequently their owners for honest mistakes that result in an insignificant overage and that don’t affect a horse’s performance, is it?
The Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program is designed to detect and deter those who intentionally try to break the rules, thus compromising the integrity of the sport and the welfare of equine and human athletes. The Program includes a test distribution plan that will focus on utilizing testing resources in a manner that will both detect and deter violations, including thorough intelligence-based target testing.
In addition, sanctions associated with Anti-Doping Rule Violations, which include the use or administration of substances that are prohibited from being present in a horse at any time (Banned Substances), are intended to be harsh.
However, there are significantly less severe penalties for offenses related to legal Controlled Medication Substances. For example, the penalty for a first offense related to a Class C medication such as phenylbutazone or methocarbamol is the disqualification of race-day results and a fine of up to $500. There is no suspension.
For many types of cases, direct penalties for the Covered Person(s) involved can be reduced or eliminated depending on the degree of fault determined by the adjudicator(s) hearing the case.
Promoting integrity of the competition and welfare of the horse are two key pillars of the ADMC Program. In support of these two principles, the regulations require that disqualifications are upheld for positive tests regardless of fault in acknowledgment of the fact that the integrity of the race and/or the welfare of the horse may have been compromised by the presence of a Prohibited Substance in the horse’s system.
On a national scale, HIWU’s team includes an investigations unit that will utilize data science, intelligence from local investigators and racing officials, e.g., stewards and regulatory veterinarians, and information received from HIWU’s anonymous whistle blower platforms. This group’s objectives are to identify and catch those who commit violations of the Program, especially the most egregious offenses. HIWU Director of Intelligence & Strategy Shaun Richards brings 23 years of experience with the FBI and initiated and directed the criminal investigation that ultimately resulted in the indictments of more than 30 individuals, including trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis.
What are we doing about positives that are possibly the result of contamination or human error? I was involved in a case that it seemed that the positive was a result of contamination at some point. A Hall of Fame trainer with a pristine record had a horse test positive for a sedative drug he said he doesn’t use and the horse was never given. The horse ran his eyeballs out that day. My owner lost the $40,000 purse. We think the sample was contaminated or perhaps nefarious behavior took place, or someone along the chain of testing made a mistake. I guess a positive is a positive and if you break the rules you are going to be penalized. Even so, that’s not what we should be trying to do in regulating horse racing, is it? Do we have anything in place to address these types of situations?
The ADMC Program includes an Atypical Findings Policy that is intended to address cases of environmental contamination. Under this Policy, if a laboratory detects the presence of the following types of substances, it will report the result as “Atypical,” NOT “positive”:
Specified Substances that pose a higher risk of being present due to environmental contamination, e.g., caffeine, cannabinoids, ractopamine, scopolamine, zilpaterol;
Endogenous substances, e.g., testosterone; or
Substances that pose a high risk of contamination but have yet to be identified.
When an Atypical Finding is issued, an investigation will be launched by HIWU, and the horse’s trainer and/or owner will have the opportunity to provide information that can explain the presence of the substance. Examples of evidence could include proof that the horse consumed feed or bedding that was shown to have been contaminated with the substance in question. The trainer could also provide veterinary evidence indicative of the levels of the substance present in the horse naturally.
If HIWU determines that the Atypical Finding was due to environmental contamination and/or that the substance was not exogenously administered based on information gathered, the laboratory result will be considered negative, and no further action will be taken in connection with the result. Consequently, there will be no loss of purse money or imposition of any other sanctions.
The Atypical Findings Policy is intended to protect trainers from being punished for substance exposures beyond their control.
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