Changes Ahead for Drug-Testing Protocol

Changes loom for drug-testing labs and the system by which samples are selected.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is developing protocol designed to streamline and improve equine drug-testing in the United States. And it is taking a few pages from a 1991 study that didn’t gain any traction in the racing industry when it was released.

The RMTC is considering lab consolidation, tighter testing standards, and changes in the selection process for drug samples. The objective is to use existing funds—a combined $30 million a year throughout the country—efficiently, and at the same time improve the regulatory process.

During an April 23 presentation before the Association of Racing Commissioners International at its annual convention in Lexington, RMTC executive director Dr. Scot Waterman said officials determined that World Anti-Doping Association standards should be a foundation for racing. WADA gets about $22 million from various countries to handle Olympic drug testing.

There are 18 laboratories that handle post-race drug testing in the U.S., but only five are accredited by the International Organization for Standardization. Many labs don’t follow the same standards, and funding varies from lab to lab.

Waterman said all labs must be accredited, submit to “external proficiency programs,” and devote a percentage of their budgets to research. Existing quality assurance programs in racing would be maintained, he said.

“The end game is creation of industry standards,” Waterman said. “States would then have a document to sell to get money from legislatures. We’ll need money to support the WADA in racing. The industry needs to support racing commissions at the legislative level.

“This is going to be a pretty significant change in how we do business. One of the failings of our industry as a whole is we haven’t supported racing commissions when they ask for money. We ask you to do a job, but not helping you get money to do that job is a failing of this industry.”

Many racing regulatory agencies around the country are struggling to meet new mandates as states reduce their budgets. Improvements in drug-testing practices could save some money, officials said.

The 1991 study for a national strategic plan for drug testing—the “McKinsey Report”—recommended changed in how horses are selected for testing. To this day, however, some states, in overnight races, still only test the winner of each race and a few other horses selected randomly.

The McKinsey Report suggested changes that in early 1990s would have saved the industry about $4 million a year. Dan Fick, executive director of The Jockey Club and chief executive officer of the RMTC board of directors, outlined a proposed model rule that relies on the old report.

Roughly 50% of samples from race winners would be tested, as would samples from the first three finishers in stakes. Beaten favorites that finish in the last two positions would be subject to tests, as would horses 20-1 or higher that finish in the top three and up to two horses at the discretion of stewards.

Based on projections, the average number of horses tested per race would drop from 2.2 to 1.5, yet the testing would be “targeted, in-depth, and cost-effective,” Fick said. The McKinsey Report said a similar process would “target cheaters” and aid public perception by “focusing on the most visible targets—winners and unexpectedly good or bad performers.”

The changes would increase the cost of testing one sample from about $100 to about $150, but fewer samples would be tested.