New York steps up illegal equine drug-use testing at racetracks

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Oct 01, 2010


Safety improvements: The industry's latest changes are geared towards improving the safety of the sport.
Saratoga, N.Y. — Opening day at Saratoga Race Course in New York on July 23 marked the end of the track's backstretch security barn, which had been in place since 2005. Security barns at New York Racing Association's (NYRA) tracks at Belmont and Aqueduct also were eliminated in a move that will not only save money but, according to the NYRA, will improve policing for illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs.

According to the NYRA, the security barn became obsolete with the introduction of its expanded in-house drug-testing program, which uses state-of-the-art science, technology and procedural processes to detect illegal substances.

When the security barns were introduced, horses were moved from the trainer's barn to the security barn for monitoring six hours before their post time. While in the barn, only the trainer and employees were allowed in the stall. Private veterinarians were banned from treating horses in the security barn, with only official NYRA veterinarians permitted to administer legal medications, such as Lasix. That restriction has been eliminated under the new policy.

Under the new policy, NYRA initiated an "in-today" process that identifies horses that are running in a NYRA race within 24 hours. This will allow NYRA the ability to monitor horses the day prior to and in the hours leading up to a race through the deployment of a stronger backstretch presence of NYRA veterinarians and security officers.

NYRA will continue testing for "milkshaking" (illegal levels of TCO2—total carbon dioxide) through the track's assembly barn, where all horses entering a race will be required to report before moving to the paddock for saddling.

The testing operation will be administered and supervised by George Maylin, DVM, PhD, director of the New York State Racing & Wagering Board's drug testing and research program at Morrisville State College.

Race-day policing is only one part of NYRA's expanded testing program. It also includes random out-of-competition testing designed to deter the use of blood doping agents such as erythropoietin (EPO), bronchial dilators and other emerging threats, say NYRA officials. Out-of-competition testing will focus primarily on claimed horses, horses shipping in and out of NYRA tracks, horses running in stakes races and other random occurrences.

Tighter testing policies will be accompanied by mandatory penalties for trainers, including permanent disbarment for a third offense.

"The out-of-competition drug testing program combined with the new assembly barn and 'in-today' procedures will provide NYRA with potent tools to confront today's challenges of detecting performance-enhancing substances and allow us to stay one step ahead of potential abusers," says NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward. "The science empowering cheaters has changed since 2005, and these new procedures will ensure that NYRA's countermeasures keep pace in order to preserve the integrity of the sport."