Test samples taken from some runners in this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) are among those that are now being tested for dermorphin, a powerful painkiller that has been detected in more than 30 horses in recent weeks.
According to Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, the state's equine laboratory began testing for dermorphin last week. That process includes retrospective testing of samples taken from this year's Derby and Oaks entrants.
In Kentucky, a minimum of three post-race samples from graded stakes races are tested, with the stewards typically selecting one more horse for testing, for a total of four per race, according to Scollay. She said there were five samples taken among the 20 horses that ran in the Derby and four from the Oaks.
Under Kentucky regulations, all post-race samples are retained for six months. A subset of those samples is then retained for an extended period and the state is able to test the retained samples as "emerging threats are identified and corresponding testing becomes available," Scollay said in an e-mail response to an inquiry about Kentucky's testing for dermorphin.
"Samples from the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are currently being subjected to analysis for dermorphin," Scollay said. "Additional retained samples, representing a cross-section of the racing population, will also be subjected."
Dermorphin, a fluid from certain South American frogs, is related to morphine and can kill pain, stimulate racing, and suppress the feeling of exhaustion after exercise, according to the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. The NHPBA said the organization has "zero tolerance" for trainers who use illegal Class 1 and 2 substances. Dermorphin is a Class 1 drug under the classification of the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
The dermorphin positives have been found primarily in horses that raced in the Southwest and Louisiana and were first detected in tests conducted by Industrial Laboratories in Colorado.
In the latest positive, stewards at Louisiana Downs June 22 suspended trainer Keith Charles for the maximum six months and sent the case to the Louisiana Racing Commission for further action, noting that the "penalty imposed is insufficient."
According to the ruling, Charles-trained Cold Hearted Babe tested positive for dermorphin after finishing second in the second race May 27. The filly was disqualified and her $1,500 share of the purse redistributed.