POSTED: September 30th 2008

Horse racing war on steroids

Racing provides full-time employment for 1.4m
Racing provides full-time employment for 1.4m

Special Correspondent / Sports Features Communications

LEXINGTON, Kentucky: American horse racing has become the latest major sport to follow the WADA line against anabolic steroids.

The anti-doping Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has launched a five-part drug-testing plan to eradicate such substance use by as early as next year.

The decision to mirror the WADA system to protect and safeguard horses followed a meeting in Lexington (September 24) with 25 stakeholders and organizations representing thoroughbred, standardbred, American quarter horse and Arabian horse racing.

This breakthrough strategy stems from an earlier drug-testing meeting in Chicago (September 22-23) of the Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee. Alan Foreman, president of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, had issued a plea for a major reorganization of drug-testing in American racing at The Jockey Club Round Table.

Dr Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board, said: “This is an opportunity to move equine drug testing in this country to a new level. Dr Don Catlin, founder and former director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, recommended the WADA model for equine drug testing at the Grayson-Jockey Club Welfare and Safety Summit this spring, and he was absolutely correct. We shouldn't settle for less."

The economic significance of the US horse racing industry is staggering and accounts for a $101.5bn impact on the US gdp as reported in The Jockey Club annual study. Racing generates more than 1.4 m full time jobs with the direct value of horse-related goods and services coming in at US$38.8bn. Almost $2bn is paid in taxes and fees including federal, state and local income taxes.

Bob Weiner, the former spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said: "It appears some experts are finally going to stop horsing around with drug standards for horse racing. 

"Seriously, aside from the 'cheat' element,  it is quite possible some horses, like people, have died from over-exertions and unnatural muscular and heart stress brought on by drugs, as well as less measurable cause-and-effect of long term illnesses.  A true testing and prevention program will be major progress."

The RMTC plan calls for:

1, Development of laboratory standards and accreditation criteria to ISO standards;

2, Expansion of current quality assurance and laboratory proficiency programmes;

3, Development of a business plan for the US drug-testing infrastructure including industry-sponsored research and reference equine drug-testing laboratories;

4, Establishment of a post-doctoral and graduate student recruitment programme for drug-testing research and laboratory staff development;

5, Review of current sample collection strategies, including long-term storage of frozen samples.

Imminent start on work

The RMTC board also defined responsibilities with timelines and governing subcommittees so work can begin immediately.

Recommendations were drafted according to the Thoroughbred Safety Committee's guidelines for drug testing released at the Jockey Club Round Table.

Extensive anabolic steroid research is being carried out at the University of Florida at Gainesville which holds a significant reputation for its track and field program.

Dr Rick Sams, RMTC chemist advisor there, reported to the board on this research and the RMTC expects to recommend plasma threshold levels and withdrawal times for stanozolol, testosterone, boldenone and nandrolone.

A timeline was established with the objective of final recommendations being approved as a model rule by RMTC and the Association of Racing Commissioners International by as early as December.

Already at least 16 racing states in the US have adopted the RMTC recommended model rule on anabolic steroids with another 16 states working on the adoption process.

Keywords · horse racing · WADA · Racing Medication and Testing Consortium · RMTC · Alan Foreman · Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association · Jockey Club · Rick Arthur · California Horse Racing Board · Don Catlin · Rick Sams · University of Florida

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