The West Virginia Racing Commission Aug. 1 hired Truesdail Laboratories in California to handle its equine drug testing and will ask the lab to test about 40 "cloudy samples" from a three-week period in July.
The samples were tested by the Delare laboratory, which has held the WVRC testing contract since 2006. State regulations that took effect in July require the WVRC to contract with a lab accredited by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium; Delare has been in the process of acquiring accreditation but missed the West Virginia deadline.
Meanwhile, the 40 or so blood and urine samples taken from horses at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort were tested by Delare, which identified various therapeutic substances but didn't quantify their levels. Therefore, the results aren't considered "positives."
The situation led to a lengthy back-and-forth between horsemen and the West Virginia Racing Commission at its Aug. 1 meeting. As is the case in Delaware, purses can't be paid until a drug test clears.
According to the WVRC, racetracks paid Delare $960 a day for tests on nine winners and three random horses per race card. With Truesdail, which got a one-year contract, the cost will be $834 per program for the 12 tests, three of which will be more advance graded stakes-level tests.
As part of its new arrangement, the WVRC, which cited an "emergency" given the fact owners and trainers of the horses with cloudy samples haven't been paid purses, will ask Truesdail to take the samples and test them if they are still viable, and at a reduced cost.
Officials said Truesdail planned to treat the samples like split samples, meaning the cost of about 40 tests would be $40,000, money the WVRC doesn't have. But they also noted that Delare didn't quantify the substances it found, so a second test wouldn't be a split sample.
WVRC members decided to ask Truesdail for a better price.
"We just hired Truesdail," WVRC chairman Jack Rossi said. "People are saying we're holding up purses. I hear what you're saying. We'll go back to Truesdail and see what it can do about this. Then we'll come back with a decision based on what we find. We've got to be rational and sensible about it."
One option on the table was to simply bag all the samples and ignore any possible positives. That didn't sit well with some horsemen, including trainer Jeff Zook, who had a horse run second to a horse that produced one of the cloudy samples.
"I followed the rules put in place (effective) July 9, and now you're going to penalize me for (a clean test)," Zook said. "There are two sides to this."
Dr. Keith Berkeley, of Valley Equine Associates, agreed.
"We accepted the new (medication) rules but understand the racing commission has failed, and the lab has failed the racing commission," Berkeley said. "We're well past cloudy tests with the technology we have today. I really think you have your back against the wall, but you must test (the samples) and get a quantitative level. The rules say you must do it."
The WVRC said it will schedule an emergency meeting as soon as it is able to take further action.
"This is a candid acknowledgement of a tacit inability to enforce," WVRC member Greg McDermott said.
WVRC member Bill Phillips said it's imperative horsemen are kept up to speed on any developments related to drug testing.
"It seems to be me it's incumbent upon the commission to go out and educate the horsemen and all concerned parties," he said. "If we don't do that we have not served our constituency well."
Delaware Park and the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association are working through a similar problem. There were about 30 cloudy samples tested by LGC, the lab in Lexington, and purse money is being held up there as well because of state racing regulations.