Out-of-competition testing of racehorses can be problematic, but some jurisdictions are making headway to combat use of performance-enhancing substances that aren't administered on race day.
The Ontario Racing Commission, under a new directive, will penalize owners and trainers who don't allow random blood samples to be drawn from their horses at Thoroughbred and Standardbred racetracks in the Canadian province as part of a new out-of-competition testing program.
Meanwhile, Meadowlands in New Jersey has refused entries from the leading trainer at the current harness meet because the New Jersey Racing Commission said one of his horses tested positive for erythropoietin--or blood-doping--antibodies.
Beginning May 19, all owners and trainers were required to make their horses available for blood tests without prior notice in Ontario. In a notice to the racing industry, the racing commission said its "medication control program focuses on significant change of performance of all horses racing in the province, and the (commission) is committed to expanding the medication control program beyond existing pre-race and post-race testing and retention requirements."
Failure of an owner and/or trainer to comply with the order could result in the horse being scratched and the owner and trainer being refused the right to enter horses at tracks in Ontario.
"The interesting thing is, what exactly are they going to be looking for?" said Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. "Is it EPO, or other things that would be administered far in advance that wouldn't have therapeutic value? I would suspect that you will see a lot of states following this. The RMTC has been discussing out-of-competition testing, and probably will create model-rule language for it."
Waterman said some states have rules that permit officials to draw blood at any time as long as a horse is on association grounds, though he's not sure how many states use that authority.
In April, Ontario authorities seized drugs including Aransep, a form of EPO, from a private residence and a steel plant in the Toronto area. Sandy DiFlorio was charged with drug trafficking in the case. Investigators also found analgesics, bronchodilators, and generic Viagra.
In New Jersey, Meadowlands refused entries from trainer Ken Rucker effective May 19 after the state racing commission said a blood test on the horse Highland Pride A tested positive for "elevated tiers of the anti-recombinant human EPO antibody." Rucker, who didn't appeal, had signed an agreement with Meadowlands last year that said a positive test for EPO antibodies would result in the track refusing his entries.
"The thing that really got the ball rolling was the Ledford stuff in New Jersey," Waterman said. "It was the tipping point."
Earlier in this year's Meadowlands meet, the track stopped taking entries from then leading trainer Seldon Ledford after a New Jersey State Police search of his barn at a training center in the state uncovered a form of EPO. Ledford's son, a driver, his assistant trainer and his wife, and a veterinarian were implicated and barred from Meadowlands.
Waterman said the industry is close to having a test for EPO rather than its antibodies. Several laboratories have been working on a definitive test for several years.
Waterman noted blood-doping raises animal welfare issues given the fact the process can kill horses. He also said expanding regulators' jurisdiction to training centers, as is the case in New Jersey, is something the RMTC may address.