The Virginia Racing Commission will offer free pre-race testing for anabolic and androgenic steroids in horses that race at Colonial Downs this year.
The commission, at its March 19 meeting, unanimously adopted regulations and penalties for steroids in racehorses. The regulations will be in place by the end of April and prior to the June 6 opening of the Thoroughbred racing season at Colonial Downs.
Pennsylvania and Delaware are the other two Mid-Atlantic states that will be testing for steroids this summer.
“We are very fortunate in Virginia to have horsemen’s organizations that are very supportive of our efforts to rid the industry of the use of steroids in our racing horses,” commission chairman Peter Burnett, also chair of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said in a statement. “It behooves all of us on the regulatory side of horse racing to do the job and do it right — first for the good of the horse, and second to show the wagering public that the misuse and abuse of steroids and other drugs will not be tolerated in racing.”
RCI will meet the week of March 23 for its annual convention and is expected to discuss regulation of steroids during a medication roundtable that will involve other industry groups.
Said Frank Petramalo Jr., executive director of the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association: “I thank the VRC for working with horsemen to draft a rule meeting the concerns of Virginia’s horsemen. From the start, the Virginia HBPA has been supportive of the commission’s efforts to regulate the use of steroids. I believe the rules give us a workable way to combat the improper use of steroids.”
Under the Virginia rules, use of androgenic and anabolic steroids in racehorses is prohibited. Urinary thresholds — outlined in the model rules approved by the RCI — have been established for boldenone, nandrolone, stanozolol, and testosterone, four commonly used Federal Drug Administration-approved steroids. Racing commission officials said the thresholds “take into account the naturally occurring levels of each substance and the potential for seasonal or cyclic variations of each.”
The commission said urinary thresholds have been developed over a period of 30 years and are backed by published research and practical experience; Iowa, for instance, has been testing for steroids in urine for 14 years. Other states, however, are using blood samples for testing because some officials believe the test results are more reliable.
Virginia, like Delaware, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, has lightened penalties during what some jurisdictions have called a “grace period.”
“This is not a ‘gotcha’ process,” executive secretary Stan Bowker said. “This is a process to provide reasonable regulations whereby we, as regulators, can eliminate the use and abuse of anabolic steroids in racing horses. We understand when changes of this magnitude are made there is a good chance that innocent or inadvertent mistakes can happen.”
The commission-funded pre-race testing that will be offered to horsemen who want their horses tested is believed to be the first program of its kind. Horsemen’s groups have expressed concerns in regard to horses that are claimed and then race right back; such pre-race testing could identify steroids-treated horses before they race and avoid penalties.
Thereafter, a first violation (positive test) in Virginia will result in disqualification, loss of purse, a horse being placed on the vet’s list, and perhaps a fine of up to $1,000 depending on “aggravating circumstances.”
A second violation for the same horse within 365 days will bring disqualification, loss of purse, a $2,500 fine, a 90-day suspension, and the horse being placed on the vet’s list.
A third offense for the same horse within 365 days will bring disqualification, loss of purse, revocation of a trainer’s license, and the horse being placed on the vet’s list.
“The Virginia HBPA appreciates the free pre-race testing program offered by the Virginia Racing Commission for horsemen who are not certain that steroids are in their horses,” Petramalo said. “This will be especially helpful for horses that may have been claimed prior to arriving in Virginia or were in someone else’s barn.”