The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has approved new procedures that regulators say will streamline and reduce the cost of equine drug testing in the state by as much as 25-30%.
Under the new procedures, approved unanimously by the commission Dec. 1, at least two horses out of every race will be taken to the test barn where samples, including blood and urine, will be collected under the direction of the official veterinarian. Based on the discretion of stewards, there may be more than two horses selected for blood and urine samples to be drawn, but a sample will always be taken of the winner and any other horse(s) as designated by the stewards.
Once the samples are taken, not all of them will be tested for prohibited substances. From the samples taken, some will be designated with either a gold or red label, again, at the discretion of stewards. The samples with gold labels will be tested 100% of the time while 50% of the red-label samples will be tested. Once the samples are logged into the Lab Information Management System, the computer would be programmed to randomly select the red-labeled samples for testing.
For listed and graded stakes and any race with a purse of $100,000 or more, the top three finishers would have samples drawn and tested under the new system.
Presently, samples are taken and tested from two participants in every race – the winner and an additional horse, and the top four finishers in graded stakes.
Dr. Mary Scollay, the Kentucky equine medical director, said that since the stewards have the discretion to take samples from more than two horses in every race, the end result of the new procedures could be that more samples are taken than under the present system. The non-tested samples will be retained for up to six months and in the event a sample comes back positive, all the samples taken from that race would then be tested.
Scollay said the new testing procedures are in compliance with testing criteria of the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
Scollay said the greatest benefit of the procedures, which are an outgrowth of the 1991 McKinsey Report recommending a national strategic plan for drug testing, will come from cost savings by fewer samples being tested while retaining the credibility of the testing program. The new testing procedures were recommended to the full commission by the Equine Drug Research Council.
According to Scollay, costs associated with post-race tests totaled $455,400 for the first six months of testing by the Florida Racing Laboratory. The lab began conducting tests for the KHRC on March 4 of this year. She projects the new procedures to save about 25-30% on the cost of testing.
While there will be fewer tests conducted, the lack of advance knowledge of which horses will have samples taken and which will then be tested will serve as a deterrent for anyone to knowingly administer a prohibited substance to a horse before a race, according to Scollay.
For example, she noted that among the considerations to be used by stewards in determining whether a horse’s sample is flagged for either a red or gold label will include whether it is a beaten odds-on favorite, is a longshot with unusual performance, is the subject of an unusual betting pattern, and is saddled by a trainer on an unusual winning streak. Also, "security intelligence" is included as a guideline for the stewards.
In addition to the criteria on which samples and tests will be taken, the procedures also provide that for any horse taken to the test barn from which a urine sample cannot be obtained after 60 minutes, the official veterinarian would have the discretion to permit the horse to return to its own stall for the urine collection, provided it was accompanied by a KHRC staff member.
KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood said it is not known when the new testing procedures will go into effect, since the KHRC staff will need to review the changes to see how they comply with or impact other regulations.