Scott Stanley, Ph. D.
UC Davis School of
Friday, Aug. 22, 2008
Scott Stanley, a UC Davis associate professor of veterinary medicine, is an expert in racehorse drug testing and medications, including anabolic steroids. He oversees the activities of the Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at UC Davis (a program of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory), which is the official equine drug testing laboratory for California's six permanent race courses, nine seasonal fair venues, and other performance events and locations. Stanley consults with veterinarians and regulatory agencies on the interpretation of drug-testing results. He also directs the development and implementation of new drug-testing techniques.
I feel that veterinarians are running racing. Trainers are not knowledgeable enough and get the vet to see horses every day or so. The vet wants to do something and to make money so he treats. IV fluids and vitamins are useless and probably dangerous. Good feed with vitamins and plenty of water are natural. Your thoughts.
I agree veterinarians are prescribing more therapeutic medications than ever before. In some cases, the vets and trainers are over medicating because they are concerned it’s necessary to keep pace with their competition. Every therapeutic medication has its place, even fluids and vitamins. However if misused they can be a problem, not only with regulations, but also with routine health. My father trained horses his entire life and often told me there is no substitute for good nutrition.
When horses are tested for drugs after a race, does that include all race enhanced drugs that a trainer could possibly give a horse?
In California, the CHRB has endeavored to obtain supplemental funds to expand their drug testing programs by adding out-of-competition testing and enhance post-race drug testing. These upgrades give CA the most comprehensive drug testing program in North American. However, it would be naive to believe that any laboratory can test for every drug all the time. We regularly identify new drugs and add them to our testing panel.
One of the big problems with breakdowns is not how much Bute or Dexamethasone has in its system in a post-race drug sample. The big problem is how many times a joint is tapped with cortisone. I had a 3 year old with 8 starts come to me this spring and he had the knees of an 8 year old because of being tapped repeatedly. How can the industry regulate the number of times a horse is tapped?
Glucocorticoids are definitely a concern for the racing industry. The primary naturally occurring glucocorticoid is cortisol, therefore, this class of drugs are commonly called corticosteroids. The effects of therapeutic corticosteroids are numerous but they are most often used to combat inflammatory problems, which are non-responsive to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Drugs like dexamethasone (Azium) are routinely administered orally for anti-inflammatory treatments. Dexamethasone is 20-30 times more potent as an anti-inflammatory as cortisol. Other corticosteroids, such as methylprednisolone (Depo Medrol) and triamcinolone acetonide (Vetalog), are used intra-articularly (within a joint) to treat inflammatory joint diseases. Numerous scientific studies have shown repeat injections (“joint tapping”) can cause permanent damage to joints.
Santa Fe, NM:
There have been 70 clenbuterol positives in New Mexico this summer. I don't understand what this drug does. How does it improve performance? How did so many positives occur without any suspensions or fines occurring?
This drug is a bronchodilator used in horses for the management of airway obstruction such as occurs in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Clenbuterol acts by stimulating cyclic AMP specifically to relax smooth bronchial muscles in the lungs. Some believe that clenbuterol permits excessive dilation of bronchial smooth muscles to improving oxygenation and improving performance.
Del Mar, CA:
Do you really think that if you go to another country without medication that they are clean of all drugs? Why is it that the only drug you can pick up in California is baking soda? Is there a super drug out there? Kentucky found Cobra venom by accident.
In fact, you are correct in your first comment. In some ways, other countries claiming to be completely free of medications are not very different from the United States. In fact, many drugs have a short withdrawal time outside the U.S. However, most foreign countries have been ahead of the U.S. with regards to anabolic and corticosteroids. For anabolic steroids, we are behind most on putting solid regulations in place to control abuse of these medications. Regarding your questions about TCO2, I can confidently say that California has the most comprehensive sampling and testing program to control the use of alkalizing agents (e.g., milkshaking) of any racing jurisdiction in the world. That said, this program is widely recognized as a success story. Three years ago CA had a hit rate approaching 10% of the Thoroughbreds competing in CA to less than <0.01%.
Is it possible that one day in the future, that horses could be tested for race enhancing drugs before a race? Testing after the race and being disqualified from purse money, does us no good, if we did not have those horses in our bet.
I realize in an ideal world all horses would be tested pre-race so any horse racing with a drug in their system could be eliminated from the competition. In the past, this was not feasible for many reasons but most importantly because urine samples were required. Modern technology is rapidly changing our capability in the laboratory. I believe in the near future that we will have the ability to do pre-race testing with the same success as our post-race programs.
What is the most common illegal drug found in Thoroughbred race horses?
This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on your definition of illegal. For the past 20 years phenylbutazone (bute) has been the most common violation reported in the United States.
Can you explain what bute is and what it does?
Phenylbutazone is the most commonly used Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) in horses. NSAIDs are weak organic acids that possess analgesic (pain), antipyretic (fever), and anti-inflammatory actions. Other drugs administered less frequently to horses include flunixin and ketoprofen. Racing regulations in most U.S. jurisdictions permit the use of one NSAID in racehorses, but have established regulatory thresholds for the maximum plasma concentration allowed in blood samples collected post-race. For example, plasma samples collected post-race may contain up to, but not more than, 5 mg/mL of phenylbutazone in most racing jurisdictions.
Is there any hope of getting uniform testing across the U.S.?
Unfortunately, there are many different laboratories, each have different capabilities and numerous different jurisdictional regulations. This is one of the underlying problems with drug testing in the U.S. and this is why there has been a push for uniformity in drug testing procedures. The RMTC model rules and efforts by the ARCI, NTRA and The Jockey Club and others are key to realizing these goals. Once racing jurisdictions have uniform rules then laboratories will be able to utilize specific standardized methodology. Other factors, such as laboratory accreditation and minimum laboratory standards, will also allow more consistency.
How common are false-positives? Is this a real issue, or just something trainers cry every time they receive a positive?
The true false positive is very rare. The first reaction for most trainers is to claim that the test or the samples (post collection) were flawed. In most cases, through further investigation, a reasonable scenario can explain how the horse got treated (e.g., the wrong horse was treated, two horses that look alike were stabled side-by-side, the groom/asst. trainer/brother in-law didn’t know the horse was entered). The natural reaction to blame the lab is reasonable because these mistakes are unintentional, otherwise they would have corrected the error and avoided the violation.
I personally believe the reason that horses of today aren't running on hay oats and water is the results of too many vets and so called trainers looking to replace hard work with needles and syringes. Doing away with such will leave many unemployed. Your feelings about veterinary medicine and its place at the racetrack?
I agree there are practitioner and trainers who have become too dependent on certain medication (e.g., Lasix, phenylbutazone and clenbuterol). The common excuse that “everyone else does it” is may not be applicable for a particular medication in all circumstances. However, these medications, when used properly, are invaluable agents for maintaining horse health. For owners to break this cycle they need to be proactive by questioning the vet bills and asking what medically necessitates each treatment their horse received.
Hi Dr. Scott! Would long term use of Winstrol have a long term effect on a horse as it relates to performance; i.e. Big Brown.
There are no scientific studies on the effects of long-term use of anabolic steroids relating to athletic performance. There are several studies reporting detrimental effects on reproductive performance in stallions and mares following long-term treatment with anabolic steroids.
In your opinion, are punishments harsh enough for trainers with REPEATED positives?
I think the recommended penalties put together by the RMTC and supported by the ARCI are sufficient.
Can you please explain the negative consequences of giving a horse a milkshake?
The negative consequences are disqualification, loss or purse, license suspension and monetary penalties. Use of any performance enhancing substance within 24 hours of the race is prohibited by every jurisdiction in North America.
Mr. Stanley, My dream has always been to become an Equine Veterinarian. I am a teenager, and I was wondering if you had any advice for me that would help me achieve my goal. Thank you very much!
It’s very competitive getting into vet school so you should focus on getting good grades as your primary objective. Working in your area of interest either as a technician or vet assistant is important to demonstrate that you have the drive and understanding of what it takes to be a veterinarian. Also, the highest percentage of students accepted into vet school each year are undergraduates at that institution so if at all possible start your undergraduate training at your target for vet school. Good Luck!
Do you agree with The Jockey Club's suggestion that there should be one national lab to handle all the drug testing for the equine industry? Would that also mean that the industry would have to support another national lab to test the split samples?
I agree with most of their recommendation but I think the industry would be better served by supporting several regional Centers of Excellence. This approach distributes the work among a few laboratories and takes advantage of already existing facilities and the accumulated expertise. The equine industry should then assign each Center to investigate an area of concern and develop a resolution (e.g., developing threshold anabolic steroids).
Agoura Hills, CA:
What ARE the effects of steroids on horses? I hear some talk that they are just for injury recovery, and do not help performance, but I do not believe that.
The label claims are for the treatment of injured and debilitated horses (e.g., anemia). There certainly are trainers and owners that believe their horses get a competitive advantage with anabolic steroids.
In their model rule, Kentucky banned all exogenous anabolic steroids such as Stanozolol. Since what was once Winstrol is now apparently only compounded, should the RMTC, PA, DE, IN and I believe CA, among others, also reconsider its regulated use?
This is definitely something that needs further consideration.
Are you 100% sure that anabolic steroids will be out of system in 45 days? So someone coming from back east doesn't have to worry?
There aren’t any guarantees so I could never say anything is 100% certain. We have done extensive research into the clearance of anabolic steroids based on a single therapeutic dose. If repeated doses are used at a dose higher then that recommend by the manufacturer then these clearance guidelines can be applied. To alleviate this problem the CHRB permits trainers from outside the state to submit samples for anabolic steroid testing to determine if they are cleared of the anabolic steroid prior to the race. The long-term solution is that every racing jurisdiction in the U.S. should adopt the RMTC anabolic steroid model rule.
How did you get into the realm of racehorse drug testing? Have you ever owned horses yourself?
I grew up around horses in Midway, Kentucky near many famed Thoroughbred farms. I worked in many industry positions (e.g., groom, vet assistant, farrier and assistant trainer) when I was younger. I have owned a few horses but they never won many races.
As an owner, what can I do to eliminate the use of illegal drugs in my horses? Should I fire my trainer for one positive? Two? How can I find a trainer who doesn't use illegal drugs?
Everyone understands that mistakes can happen. Even a credible trainer could have a positive for a therapeutic medication, which inadvertently was not permitted to clear the horses system prior to competition. However, if your trainer has repeated violations for the same therapeutic substance or a violation for any Class 1 drug, then I think it would be prudent to investigate other alternatives. Finding reputable trainers is not a difficult task, I have met many throughout the United States. Only a small percentage of trainers are dead set on getting an unfair competitive advantage through a pharmaceutical boost.
Santa Monica, CA:
What is adequan? What does it do? Why is used so much? Is it really good for the horses?
Adequan is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG) approved by FDA for used in horses for more than 20 years. Adequan is an anti-inflammatory agent, that protects the articular cartilage against degeneration (chrondroprotection) and may even complement repair processes. The scientific proof supports these claims, as does antidotal evidence.
Do you oversee the drug testing for Quarter horses as well? What kinds of drug restrictions (or allowances) are there for Quarter horses in California?
Yes, we do the drug testing for the Quarter horses at Los Alamitos. The Quarter horses have the same restrictions as all other horses that racing in CA. They are permitted to use one of three approved NSAIDs no closer than 24 hours before the race and they are permitted to use furosemide (Lasix) 4 hours prior to the event.
Can you briefly explain the drug testing procedures? I mean, is there always a split sample? More than two? How soon after the race does testing take place? How many drugs are detected?
Immediately after each race the Stewards select the horses to be tested. Once in the detection area the horses are bathed and cooled out, soon after they are taken into stalls within the detection barn so that techs can collect urine sample and the Official Vet. can collect a blood sample. States who have adopted the ARCI Split Sample Model Rule have a true separate split sample, where a portion from the original urine sample is split-off at the track. This provides a secondary sample, know as the Horsemen’s Split Sample, which can be tested by an independent laboratory in the event that a drug is found in the sample. After the samples are all collected they are shipped by overnight carrier to the lab. Once we receive the samples at the lab, they are each tested for approximately 900 drugs using a variety of analytical instruments. The results can take from as little as 3 days to as long as 10 days for positive samples.
San Pedro, CA:
What ideas can you offer for a mobile testing lab that can be on site at Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown venues to insure that every runner is clean of steroids and bi-carbonates aka milkshakes?
This is an area of great interest for me. Testing all horses pre-race, so that horses can be eliminated before the race and bettors are protected, is the “Wholly Grail” of equine drug testing. At one time, I thought if was unreachable, however, in the past year new technology has been developed which can make the dream a reality. We have been working to develop the necessary methods and in the meantime exploring how to make the operation mobile yet stable enough for the highly sensitive analytical equipment. In short, with industry support this could be a reality in the near future.
Which is more common to find in a horse's system, illegal drugs or illegal amounts of legal drugs?
For the past 20 years, overage of the authorized plasma concentration of phenylbutazone (bute) has been the most common violation reported in the United States. Violations for illegal drugs are quite rare.
Do you know anything about the drug restrictions for horses in the Olympics? What kinds of drugs are tested for? Are any drugs allowed?
The horses competing in the Olympics will be tested at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Laboratory. This laboratory has an impeccable reputation and is considered one the best equine drug testing labs in the world. The equestrian events are being held in Hong Kong. They are regulated by the Federation Equestian International (FEI) who “ensure doping-free horsesport” for the 2008 Olympic Games.
How easy is it to use Lasix to mask other drugs?
Years ago Lasix was a problem, because diuretics increase the amount of water in the urine and diluted to amount of drug present making the harder to find. New technology eliminates the effect Lasix has through urine dilution. Our mass spectrometers routinely detect drugs at low parts-per-trillion concentrations. The smaller amount of drug is no longer a challenge for laboratories with modern equipment.
Scott, almost every race I see either all or most of the horses are on Bute, is this an anti-bleeding drug? Do all horses need this drug, and is it a performance enhancing drug? Also Lasix, what's your view on this drug? And in your opinion what is the drug that has to be banned immediately?
Phenylbutazone is the most commonly used Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in horses. Bute has no anti-bleeding properties for horses or any other species.
San Diego, CA:
The presentation regarding drug testing at last weekend's Jockey Club Round Table, in addition to raising uniformity issues, seemed to impugn the quality of testing done in existing labs, but did not specify the types of problems that are perceived to exist. What do you see as the weaknesses and limitations of the Maddy lab? Without mentioning any specific lab, what other weaknesses do you think might exist at other labs?
Most laboratories are limited in their scope of testing and the drugs they are testing for due to funding. Given additional funds, I think all laboratories would gladly increase their drug testing coverage and upgrade their technology.
The establishment of World Anti-Doping agency standards for testing, frozen samples, testing using both urine and blood, frozen samples, in and out of competition testing, and significantly increased penalties for violators will all be needed if the sport is to be cleaned up. Do you support all of these measures, and if not, why not.
We already have these measures in place for CA horse racing. The routine testing done on every sample meets the TOBA Graded Stakes testing requirements. We do in and out-of-competition testing. We freeze a portion of ever sample submitted by the CHRB. Finally, the CHRB has dramatically increased the penalties for drug violation. I believe these measures do safe guard horse racing in CA.
Thank you Dr. Stanley for answering my questions. Is EPO testing 100% reliable? If not can you explain why if it is not? Which California horses are tested for EPO? Those of trainers who claim horses then turn them into graded stakes winners?
The EPO testing done for horse racing is reliable and legally defensible. The out-of-competition horse are selected by a process know by few people so that trainer won’t know when they may be tested. Certainly horse performing in Graded Stakes or ones who have had significant improvement in there most resent performances would be more likely targeted for testing.
Scott, starting in the 1970's medication use increased significantly. Coincidentally during the same timeframe the number of starts a racehorse makes dropped quite dramatically. Racetrack vets have a profit motive in dispensing medications. Do you think medications are compromising racehorse soundness and how do you reign in Track Vets when their bread and butter is the sale and administration of medications?
Many have speculated that there is a correlation between the decrease in number of starts per horse per year and the increase in therapeutic medications. Just as with anabolic steroids if the industry can or won’t control the medication used between racing then the regulators may step in and take control through further regulation.
Can you name some actual situations of therapeutic value when giving anabolic steroids to a race horse. Do they outweigh the negative effects of giving them? I am a Horseshoer that works at breeding farms and the Race track. I see Fillies come back from the track and try to mount other mares in the same field. Then watch a farm manager shake his/her head saying "this one will be hard to get in foal". I have seen colts at the track become nearly unmanageable with a fractious temperament that one would think saps them as much as "gives him an edge". Clearly a Racehorse knows when it’s time to race. But I'm not sure very many know when to turn it off.
I would agree that anabolic steroids have been abused and horses received large and frequent doses will behave as you have described. I do not believe anabolic steroids are being used solely for therapeutic purposes so tighter regulation seem to be the only solution to combat this growing industry problem.
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