Racing Medication Use

AQHA calls for industry action on medication use.

July 1, 2012

Generic Racing Shot

In November 2010, the American Quarter Horse Association gathered together a group of industry experts, including horsemen, officials and medication experts, to discuss the state of medication use in American Quarter Horse racing. Since then, the Association has worked with industry leaders to address matters regarding the use of medications. With recent occurrences of serious medication violations, the Association confirms its stance on the proper use of medications in racing American Quarter Horses, and calls for the industry to further address the issues. 

“The American Quarter Horse Association firmly believes racing must be fair and clean for all involved,” said American Quarter Horse Association Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr. “We also know that recent events are not representative of the actions of tens of thousands of our members, owners and trainers. We continue to work to develop more uniformity within the industry and to further deter the few who seek to cheat.”

AQHA Statement on Medication Use

The American Quarter Horse Association continues its longstanding support of the racing industry and its horsemen. This includes racing that is clean, fair and provides a great experience for the horse, jockey, owner and fan base. AQHA continuously works to ensure not only the integrity and welfare of American Quarter Horses, but also the integrity and welfare of the entire horse industry.

AQHA urges stewards and racing authorities in every racing jurisdiction to levy the maximum penalties allowable against people who are doping our horses, endangering their lives, the lives of jockeys and horsemen and cheating our fans. AQHA also advocates that stronger penalties be developed uniformly that will ban these cheaters from our industry for life. The use of illegal substances will not be tolerated and AQHA is exploring all options to use our resources and funding to assist in identifying and testing new drug variations and prosecuting to the fullest extent possible – including criminal charges -- anyone that uses any illegal drug.  The horse racing industry must come together and without question adopt the current model rules, and regardless of breed or role in the industry develop the processes and procedures to address future situations with the strictest penalties we can develop.

Thoughts from Industry Experts

  • Scott Wells, Remington Park general manager and former trainer: “Let’s talk about the big issue, which is the public’s perception of our sport. I believe, very strongly, that we need massive, fundamental changes to the way we race horses, and if we don’t do something to convert the image that the public has of our sport now, it will go the way of the dodo, it will become extinct. It will become extinct except in a very, very few places. We must reinvent the way we do our sport. We must make dramatic changes in the public perception. One of the ways we do that is to erase the perception that all these horses are racing on performance-enhancing drugs. I’m in Florida right now, with some friends, and one of their first questions to me was well is it true that all these horses race on drugs? And their second question was: We’ve heard that I’ll Have Another (TB) didn’t run in the Belmont because they didn’t want him to be drug tested. You know and I know that he was thoroughly tested in the races leading up to the Belmont and there’s no foul play there. But it is an indisputable fact that we race horses with painkillers in their systems, sometimes multiple painkillers. Until we clean up our sport on a nationwide basis and change our practices, then we are doomed to eventual extinction.”
  • Scott Wells: “We’ve created, over the decades, an environment in which trainers and owners have been led to believe that they can’t be competitive unless they push their horses to the limit. When I was training horses, I had vets tell me, well, you can’t expect to be competitive if you don’t do this and don’t do that. The poor, honest horseman who’s trying to make a living doesn’t know biochemistry or anything else. He’s at the mercy of his veterinarian and other people, and so if the option is to cheat and press too hard or go out of business, well, people are going to try to survive. So we’ve got to level the playing field. We’ve got to stop masking pain on horses. If we can’t run horses without painkillers, we don’t need to be running them. Now, zero-tolerance is crazy, because with today’s testing mechanisms you can’t go with zero tolerance. You’ve got to have threshold levels. The Association of Racing Commissioners International is working very hard to employ the science necessary to create thresholds which would not harm the horse or boost performance. There are numerous steps we can take. But there are glaring flaws in the way we do things. The stacking of painkillers is one. Injecting joints with painkillers and racing horses immediately thereafter is wrong and leads to lots of breakdowns. We’ve got to show the public that we are doing everything we can to get the horses a chance to do what they love to do unencumbered by chemical influences.”
  • Scott Wells: “There are always going to be unethical trainers and chemists who work together to try to get an edge. That’s been true since horse racing began. It’s been true since athletics began – not just horse racing. People have forgotten what we’ve done. Horse racing invented drug testing. Horse racing invented instant replay. We will always have to be vigilant about designer drugs that come along. But if we make sufficient examples of those people when we do catch them, and if we use all our resources to get to the source of the problems, we can do it.”
  • Dr. Edward C. Allred, owner of Los Alamitos Race Course, after a Grade 1- winning champion tested positive for a Class 3 drug violation and was disqualified: “We’re not going to put up with this. We’ve got to clean up racing, and once a violation has occurred – and particularly multiple violations – those horses and those people aren’t going to run here at my track anymore.”
  • Shaun Hubbard, Ruidoso Downs general manager and racehorse owner: “(Ruidoso was) in the forefront of suspending clenbuterol in the state of New Mexico. . . . I’ve been very hands-on with the horsemen, trying to listen and understand the root of the problem. . . . I truly believe with those listening and trying to learn what is really prevalent and what’s been going on, it’s going to pay dividends for the entire industry, not just New Mexico. I really believe we’re getting somewhere. The general consensus of the horsemen . . . (is) things are changing for the better, rapidly.”
  • Shaun Hubbard: “In mid-May, prior to our opening, we came up with a funding mechanism to enhance drug testing for the horses. What we wanted to do would come from the horsemen – it comes from our industry. We’re not asking for help from the casino, or any other organization. What we proposed to our local horseman committee, our Ruidoso Downs committee, is we take $100 from the time-of-entry payment for, to start with, our Grade 1 Ruidoso Futurity and Derby. And we would use that for supplemental testing, to test more horses and do out-of-competition testing, that sort of thing. So rather than test one or two horses per race, we’d like to test four. I think it’s critical that the out-of-competition testing happen, and more frequently. That’s what we proposed, we took it to our local committee, they passed it unanimously. We took it in front of the (New Mexico Racing) Commission (where the proposal is pending upon further review). . . . What they did do, on behalf of the commission, which was nice and kind of took our lead, I told them out-of-competition testing is something that has just got to happen. On their own, they found the funding to test approximately 20 head of horses before the trials. It really spurred a lot of peoples’ interest, and people who were abusing things, it got their attention as well. That’s when things started changing for the better at a rapid pace.”
  •  Shaun Hubbard: “We’re going to continue to support our industry. This is what our passion is. This is what we want to clean up and have for some time to come. Whatever that takes, we’re willing to meet or beat everybody halfway there or beyond. It’s basically our No. 1 priority to save the industry we have, and better it. It’d be nice if we could challenge owners and trainers to stand up for what we have. We need to do some of it ourselves; it can’t all be from a regulatory body. We need to challenge one another with what we have to make it better and not always rely on the governing regulatory bodies.”
  • Dr. Robert Lewis, Racing Medication and Testing Consortium chairman: “This industry is capable of regulating itself. Look at all the clenbuterol mess going on: I’ve met with Trey Buck and those guys (at AQHA) and I know what they’re dealing with. They took a stand on that, and a couple of states got tough, got long enough withdrawal times that they can at least control the problem – or think they can, and I think it’ll go a long way toward controlling it, too. AQHA stepped up and did it. And they put a lot of pressure on the commissions to where California and New Mexico did it and some others that need to are thinking about it. That’s an example of where an organization can put some muscle behind it and make some things happen.”
  • Dr. Lewis: “It has to happen on a state-by-state basis. That’s where the rubber meets the road. We can talk about it all night and debate it all we want to, but you really have to get down in the individual states. It’s the people in the individual states who make the decisions. If they want to change something, they have to get more involved and put the pressure on (their tracks, commissions and legislatures) to get it done. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a national organization supporting them. You can see that The Jockey Club is making a pretty concerted effort to try to effect some changes. AQHA, singly, is doing the same thing on some different issues. I applaud what they’re doing, I really do. I think they probably need to step it up, because some of this stuff is hurting our sport.”
  •   Dr. Steven Barker, head of Louisiana State University’s testing lab: “It’s probably never been just ‘hay, oats and water.’ There have always been people who added a little something extra here and a little something extra there. Drugs that couldn’t be detected that eventually became able to be detected were probably being used in racehorses. Up until the 1960s and 1970s, our drug testing capabilities were really pretty poor. There were an awful lot of drugs that were out there, and an awful lot of drugs we still couldn’t detect. But that’s just one side of it. Hay, oats and water is just not a reasonable or even rational or well-thought out approach. Zero tolerance, which is another concept that is associated with that, suffers from the same false assumptions: That you can race horses without any drugs on board – any trace of drugs on board – at any detectible levels. . . . In this day and age, that’s impossible and it’s still absurd. If you’re going to maintain the health of an animal, you’ve got to be able to use therapeutic agents that deal with the common problems of just being alive – the aging process, the injuries due to athletic performance, their genetics and problems in their environment. So there are plenty of drugs used therapeutically in the training process that can still show up on race day. That doesn’t mean someone administered that drug in a way that they’re trying to affect performance or trying to get an advantage. In most cases, most of the positives called across the country are for those agents and, under those circumstances, were administered well outside the race day collection process, the amounts there are not significant and are pharmalogically inactive, there’s not enough there to have an effect.”
  • Dr. Barker: “Make a clear distinction between a therapeutic drug that did not and could not have affected the race; and a drug that very well could have affected the race and that should not ever be in the horse. A lot of that distinction would come out in these cases if they were properly categorized. . . . We have people who have positions of responsibility and authority in a number of different racing organizations who seem intent on lumping all of these together and trying to initiate a political agenda to eliminate the use of drugs in horses altogether. They know the difference, or should, between Lasix and dermorphin. But I see these people talk about drugging, and the use of therapeutic drugs and even trace levels (as) evidence of drugging the horse, that it is doping – and of course it is not. . . . But the people in the industry are their own worst enemy. They continue to talk about these things as if they were all the same, instead of making clear distinctions.”
  • Dr. Barker: “We can test for all the routine therapeutic medications all the time, every day, and we do. But a lot of this exotic stuff, we have to know it’s there and we have to have specific tests to be able to detect it and report it. So that has always made the biggest difference in trying to catch up with these people: getting someone to give us information or to provide us with material that has been found or used on the backside, illegally. You can contact the commission or lab and say, look, I have this material and I think people are using it to cheat. Can I send it to you? There are a number of ways to send these things nowadays pretty anonymously. You don’t have to let people know what your name is. We’ve received things from the outside, we’ve received things from regulators, from people on the backside who found a syringe or vial they couldn’t identify. It has made a huge difference.”
  • Dr. Rick Sams, director, HFL Sport Science Laboratory: “Horsemen and veterinarians have said to us and the RMTC that they needed threshold and drug withdrawal guidelines, and as a consequence a very substantial amount of funding generated by the RMTC was devoted to that effort. However, that took away from the effort to find other stuff that should never be in a racehorse.”
  • Dr. Sams: “AQHA has been really helpful to me, starting with the invitation I received to attend a meeting at Los Alamitos in early 2011. It was a small group of individuals at that meeting, not the drugs and medication committee but a select group of individuals who heard for the first time about the threat that clenbuterol poses. We also heard there about the threat posed by the administration of frog venom (dermorphin). The individual who talked about frog venom didn’t know any more about it than that, but he was absolutely certain that it was being used. So we’ve known for almost a year and a half that it’s out there. It took us awhile to identify it from the syringes that veterinarians for the AQHA were able to obtain. Had they not done that, we still wouldn’t know that it was being used. This problem was solved because of the actions of concerned individuals within the AQHA.”
  • Dr. Sams: “We need to unite as a group. We always seem to be at odds with each other. We tend to be so provincial. It’s horsemen against regulators, tracks against each other, breed against breed, you name it, there are divisions. Unless we unite, our future is bleak. I think we need to perhaps walk away from our own personal interests for the sake of the industry, if we really care about it. I think we need to identify those who are doing harm and get them out of the business – severe penalties, absolutely. This internecine warfare between the factions is just awful. It’s patently ridiculous and it’s so petty. And every time we get involved in one of those battles, we show the rest of the world how petty we are and how little we apparently care about the business. Can you imagine if Major League Baseball or the NFL operated this way?”
  • Dr. Rick Arthur, California Horse Racing Board equine medical director: “Racing had a situation with cone snail venom back right when the RMTC was first founded. There were a lot of rumors about cone snail venom being used. At the time, RMTC actually solicited a paper to look at cone snail venom, which really put the cone snail venom issue behind us. We’ve since looked at other issues and other drugs such EPO that are problems. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time more recently, for specific reasons, on therapeutic drugs, including anabolic steroids and a number of others that frankly are the bulk of our problems. Most of our violations come from accidental administrations – overages (of legal medications). What we are trying to do is eliminate those so we can spend more regulatory time drugs like dermorphin. Of course, almost all regulatory agencies are underfunded.”
  • Dr. Arthur: “RMTC has been switching the focus back to strategic research on emerging threats. It’s dermorphin this month, and three or four months from now it’s going to be something else, whether it’s pig juice, which is ractopamine, or zilpaterol, which is sometimes called synthetic clenbuterol. All these things are risks that we have to continue addressing and develop strategies for combating. The RMTC has done a number of research projects trying to look at different ways to really make sure that these drugs really don’t get by us. Another of the major issues we’ve been looking at is laboratory accreditation, to make sure all the laboratories are up to snuff. Some laboratories are simply better than others. A lot of that has to do with the funding and resources available to them, and we are trying to establish a system where we know the labs are good and they have to meet certain criteria. Also, as a part of the RMTC’s drug testing initiative to accredit laboratories is they have to have a research budget. For example, Hong Kong is the best-funded laboratory in the world and actually has six Ph.D. chemists who do nothing but develop other tests. Most of our laboratories are service laboratories and they have to hunt and peck to find time to do research, and that’s only if they have the money to do it. That’s where we need to change the paradigm, and what the RMTC has tried to do is get people – particularly regulatory agencies – to recognize that you have to pay for R&D. I think this dermorphin issue could have been addressed more aggressively, and if it had been, we would have solved the problem earlier than we did.
  • Dr. Arthur: “You can test for some drugs tomorrow, if you know what they are. There are other drugs that really take some development time. You wouldn’t ordinarily think someone would be dumb enough to administer tree frog venom to a horse, would you? It’s rather astounding. So you always have to be looking for these things, and we’ve tried to get a system in place where we get intelligence. We’ve tested products that were supposed to be this, they were supposed to be that, and most of them are hocus-pocus. They’re nothing. We’ve paid good money for sugar water with food coloring in it. And I’m sure a lot of that is being administered.”
  • Dr. Arthur: “We need people inside to tell us what’s going on. I’ve talked to veterinarians, I’ve talked to trainers, I’ve talked to owners, and they want (racing) to be clean, for the most part – inevitably you have a few guys out there who are going to cheat. But that’s true in every sport, a few guys who are the rotten apples spoiling the whole barrel. We need to make sure that when we get information we are able to act on it. A lot of stuff we hear is nonsense. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire. We need to be able to get intelligence and then act on it.”
  • Dr. Arthur: “We need to recognize that if we want to promote integrity, we’re going to have to spend the money. Integrity costs money, that’s the bottom line.”
AQHA has reached out to other experts and will add comments as they are received.

  • The American Quarter Horse Association makes a controlled effort to ensure not only the integrity and welfare of American Quarter Horses, but also the integrity and welfare of the entire horse industry through a number of policies and initiatives.
  • AQHA continually revises its policies concerning animal welfare via the Public Policy Committee and our standing committees. Through these avenues, as well as industry leadership, advisory groups and councils, AQHA is able to expand upon its proven efforts to safeguard the welfare of American Quarter Horses, as outlined by the AQHA Statement of Position. AQHA expresses concern for the health and welfare of the racing athlete through rules and through financial support of worthy industry initiatives. These include support of a racing surface research project, support of the industry’s Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and national movements through Racing Commissioners International for uniform medication rules.
  • The Association has implemented the Racing Equine Health, Welfare, Integrity and Research Subcommittee (EqHWIR), which is set to “protect the horses, horsemen and fans that enjoy and participate in the sport of American Quarter Horse racing and all horse racing.”
  • The Association also created and hosts the 12-member Animal Welfare Commission, which meets to identify welfare problems, discusses and makes recommendations to protect the industry and the horse.
  • AQHA has spearheaded efforts to reduce the improper use of clenbuterol or clenbuterol-like substances for anabolic effects. Nine states or provinces have rules in place regarding the use of clenbuterol, many at the urging of AQHA and its horsemen and state affiliates.
  • AQHA’s efforts regarding medication use was brought to the forefront in November 2010. At the Bank of America Racing Challenge Championships and Racing Conference in New Orleans, the Association brought together a large group of industry experts, including horsemen, racing officials and experts on medication and testing to discuss and address issues.
  • AQHA supports the efforts of state racing commissions and tracks in their efforts to expand race testing, including both in- and out-of-competition testing. AQHA also supports the commissions and tracks implementing procedures penalizing rule violators.
  • Read more at AQHA’s racing welfare and medication page.
  • The New Mexico Racing Commission recently adopted Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules to toughen existing medication use policies.
Types of Tests

Certified testing facilities use a wide range of testing procedures to ensure integrity within the sport.  Here is information on a few of the tests:

The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test has a limit of detection of 1 nanogram per milliliter (one nanogram is one billionth of a gram). It uses a type of enzyme test to detect substances in a liquid sample.The ELISA test has very good specificity and sensitivity, but a higher cost of testing.

This testing method has a 100 nanograms/mL limit of detection and can look for a wide array of drugs in a single run. The substance being tested is placed on a plate holding absorbent material, then has a solvent applied to identify compounds. The test is simple and relatively inexpensive, but not as sensitive as other tests may be.

Mass spectral testing methods have a 25 picogram/mL limit of detection (one picogram is one trillionth of a gram). This testing method creates a “molecular fingerprint” and is extremely sensitive and specific and very reliable. However the cost of the machinery required to do these tests runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.It also requires specially trained technicians.

Classification Definitions of Drugs and Medications

Class 1: Stimulant and depressant drugs that have the highest potential to affect performance and that have no generally accepted medical use in the racing horse.  Many of these agents are Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) schedule II substances.  These include the following drugs and their metabolites:  Opiates, opium derivatives, synthetic opioids and psychoactive drugs, amphetamines and amphetamine-like drugs as well as related drugs, including but not limited to apomorphine, nikethamide, mazindol, pemoline, and pentylenetetrazol.  Though not used as therapeutic agents, all DEA Schedule 1 agents are included in Class 1 because they are potent stimulant or depressant substances with psychotropic and often have habituative actions.

Class 2: Drugs that have a high potential to affect performance, but less of a potential than drugs in Class 1.  These drugs are 1) not generally accepted as therapeutic agents in racing horses, or 2) they are therapeutic agents that have a high potential for abuse.  Drugs in this class include: psychotropic drugs, certain nervous system and cardiovascular system stimulants, depressants, and neuromuscular blocking agents.  Injectable local anesthetics are included in this class because of their high potential for abuse as nerve blocking agents.

Class 3: Drugs that may or may not have generally accepted medical use in the racing horse, but the pharmacology of which suggests less potential to affect performance than drugs in Class 2.  Drugs in this class include bronchodilators, anabolic steroids and other drugs with primary effects on the autonomic nervous system, procaine, antihistamines with sedative properties and the high-ceiling diuretics.

Class 4: This class includes therapeutic medications that would be expected to have less potential to affect performance than those in Class 3.  Drugs in this class includes less potent diuretics; corticosteroids; antihistamines and skeletal muscle relaxants without prominent central nervous system (CNS) effects; expectorants and mucolytics; hemostatics; cardiac glycosides and anti-arryhthmics; topical anesthetics; antidiarrheals and mild analgesics.  This class also includes the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), at concentrations greater than established limits.

Class 5: This class includes those therapeutic medications for which concentration limits have been established by the racing jurisdictions as well as certain miscellaneous agents and other medications as determined by the regulatory bodies.  Included specifically are agents that have very localized actions only, such as anti-ulcer drugs, and certain anti-allergic drugs.  The anticoagulant drugs are also included.