KY Drug Testing Changes Showing Benefits

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission changed testing labs and testing procedures.

Decisions by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to have its drug testing performed by a new laboratory and to revamp the manner in which it conducts its drug testing are having positive results, according to a report presented to the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council during its Aug. 2 meeting.

Previously, the state’s equine drug testing was performed by the Florida Racing Laboratory under the direction of Dr. Rick Sams, but the commission wanted the work performed locally so it would cut down on the cost of shipping samples and decrease the amount of time needed to get the samples tested and results returned.

The company selected by the KHRC, United Kingdom-based HFL Sport Science, opened a laboratory in Lexington to not only conduct Kentucky drug testing but to develop laboratory screening tests for fitness and nutritional health and to provide services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors.

Now, with the first full quarter of the tests being conducted by HFL, the state is already seeing cost savings.

According to Dr. Mary Scollay, KHRC equine medical director, there were 1,143 horses subjected to post-race sampling during the quarter of April 1-June 30, 2011. Of those samples, 914 were subjected to either blood or blood/urine testing, and 229 of the samples were not tested but retained by the lab for possible testing later. In addition, the lab performed other testing, including blood tests on injured horses and pre-race TCO2 blood tests.

The total cost of the tests conducted by HFL was $180,837, a figure that would have been $213,620 if the same number and types of tests were done under the previous contract with the Florida lab. In addition to changing labs, the KHRC is achieving benefits from a decision in 2009 to change the way in which it tests samples, Scollay said.

Under the changes, which were an outgrowth of the 1991 McKinsey Report recommending a national strategic plan for drug testing, at least two horses from every race are taken to the test barn where samples are drawn. 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 is always be taken of the winner and any other horse(s) as designated by the stewards.

For listed and graded stakes and any race with a purse of $100,000 or more, the top three finishers have samples drawn and tested. Previously, samples were taken and tested from two participants in every race--the winner and an additional horse, and the top four finishers in graded stakes.

From the samples taken, some are designated with either a gold or red label, again, at the discretion of stewards. The samples with gold labels are tested 100% of the time while 50% of the red-label samples are tested.

During the April 1-June 30 period, 506 red samples were collected and 268 tested. During the same period, 646 gold samples were tested. Of those tests, one red sample was positive for a prohibited substance and 16 gold samples were positive.

Scollay said the greater number of positives for the gold samples indicated the new procedures were beneficial.

“Those were the horses that the stewards identified for testing, following the sampling criteria,” she said. “Those were the horses that failed to perform according to form, there may been wagering patterns that were unusual, there may been security or enforcement intelligence provided. But this was the strategic sampling that resulted in the detection of violations.

"That just confirms the work everybody did in drafting that regulation. Although we save money, it’s clear to me the strategic sampling has supported our regulations.”

Drug council chairman Dr. Jerry Yon said the results show that as the state's drug testing has gone through various transitions the past several years, the number of positive tests have declined, indicating "people began to learn that we were really serious about trying to just enforce the rules that were on the books and that we had the wherewithal to do that."

“We have got better testing and smarter testing,” KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood said.