"We’ve seen a marked decrease in respiratory diseases since we’ve been administering clenbuterol therapeutically," Dr. Karen Valko said at the trainers’ meeting. "We’re seeing far fewer incidences of pleural pneumonias and a significant decrease in lung X-rays."
After hearing trainers complain of abusing clenbuterol at its Jan. 9 meeting, the CHRB medication committee had suggested a 28-day withdrawal period for the bronchodilator, effectively eliminating it from use for horses in training. However, after the Thursday meetings it appeared more likely that the committee would recommend a 72-hour withdrawal period and a switch to testing for the substance in blood rather than urine, a more precise means of testing. The veterinarian group endorsed those positions.
There have been rumors that people have been administering clenbuterol within 90 minutes of post time, but Arthur said that blood tests can easily detect those types of administrations if they are occurring. He said at the trainers’ meeting that recent blood tests the CHRB has been performing on horses racing in California indicate that only 14% of the horses showed any "measurable levels" of clenbuterol instead of the rampant overuse of the substance that has been alleged and none that would indicate race-day administration.
Shapiro expressed concerns that clenbuterol’s side effects include improved muscle mass and could be considered performance enhancing.
"Is it being used for competitive advantage or is it for the welfare of the horse?" Shapiro asked during the trainers’ meeting. He requested that trainers complete an anonymous questionnaire that surveyed whether they used clenbuterol routinely and whether they felt it was being abused.
Valko explained that some of the clenbuterol studies that show increased muscle mass were conducted on cattle at much higher doses than anyone would use at the racetrack. She said that the physiology of horses and cattle differ and cautioned against drawing conclusions of how the medication would react in horses based on cattle studies.
Shapiro said that routine administration of clenbuterol, at about $300 per month, is expensive and that its elimination could reduce an owner’s cost that would in effect raise purses 6 to 7%. Yet several people at the trainers’ meeting proposed that an owner’s costs could rise even higher if a racehorse developed severe respiratory problems without the medication or had to use more expensive alternatives.
"In my 30 years of practice, I thought clenbuterol was one of the best therapeutic medications to come along," Arthur said.
Several horsemen pointed out that horses kept in stalls instead of in grass paddocks or outdoor pens are especially susceptible to respiratory problems because of dust and environmental pollutants.
"Over half of our grooms work with masks (because of the air quality)," said Aase Headley, wife of trainer Bruce Headley.
Valko explained that while clenbuterol will not enhance a horse’s normal airways, it allows a horse to rid his airways of mucus and debris, leading to a reduction in respiratory ailments. Several trainers said that it has decreased the incidence of bleeding in horses as well.
Though much of the discussion at both meetings concerned clenbuterol, Shapiro, Arthur, and Fermin also reported about likely future restrictions on anabolic steroids. Arthur said that the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium will probably be proposing restrictions on steroids and that California will work to establish testing guidelines to be ready for those changes.
Arthur is proposing moving all anabolic steroids to Class 3 drugs, which would require purse redistribution, except for boldenone (Equipoise), stanozolol (Winstrol), nandrolone (Durabolin), and testosterone. Those would be made Class D medications, and the CHRB would issue warnings if those four exceeded established limits until national regulations are put into place.
Shapiro told both groups that CHRB representatives would also meet with the board of California Thoroughbred Trainers and with California jockeys. "We’re trying to get every group involved in these issues," he said. Shapiro is a member of the CHRB medication committee, which is next scheduled to meet the morning of Jan. 23 prior to that day’s regular monthly meeting of the entire CHRB.