The New South Wales Racing Laboratory has developed a test to detect the drug erythropoietin, commonly known as EPO, in racehorses, according to release on the Racing New South Wales Web site. The medication is considered a performance-enhancer.
Tony Hartnell, chairman of the New South Wales Thoroughbred Racing Board, said development of the test is a major scientific achievement and major leap forward in the detection of the group of substances known as "peptide hormones."
"There have been concerns both within and outside the racing industry that EPO may have been administered to racehorses with the intent of enhancing performance," Hartnell said. "This test is a major breakthrough both for the integrity of racing, and for the welfare of the horse."
EPO is designed for use in humans suffering with anemia. It is a prohibited substance under the rules of racing in New South Wales. The medication isn't permitted for use in horses in the United States, either, and chemists have been trying to develop an equine test for the drug.
Dr. Craig Suann, senior TRB veterinarian, said EPO has been reported as having adverse reactions in horses. He said foreign EPO is detected by the horse's immune system, and the horse develops antibodies that act against the foreign EPO but also the horse's own naturally occurring EPO.
"The horse becomes anemic and, in some cases, the anemia is not responsive to treatment and death may eventuate," Suann said.
Hartnell said Dr. Shawn Stanley, the TRB's official analyst, masterminded the EPO project. Hartnell said prevention of the use of EPO is extremely important for the welfare of horses.
"We would hope that this substance is not in use in the equine world, but if it is, then the full force of the rules will be applied," Hartnell said.
Said Ron Leemon, president of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Trainers' Association: "We fully support tests which can pick-up anything illegal. This testing is tremendous news and will catch those attempting to cheat. Any trainers caught using EPO should be eliminated from our sport -- we're all for a level playing field."
Scientific details on the EPO testing procedure will be published shortly, the news release said.
Published reports said horses were tested for EPO for the first time the last weekend of October at Rosehill racetrack in New South Wales.