Caution Urged on Steroid Regulation

Medication and racing surfaces were discussed at the Welfare and Safety Summit.

An authority on drug testing, who has worked with the United States Olympic Committee and is now advising the horse racing industry, has urged caution on efforts to regulate anabolic steroids.

“You need much more infrastructure; you need to walk before you run,” Dr. Don Catlin said March 17 during the second Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit at the Keeneland sale pavilion in Lexington. “You’re getting there. You’re taking the first steps.”

Catlin, head of the Equine Drug Research Institute, made his comments following a report from Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, who noted the progress being made throughout the country in getting racing jurisdictions to adopt rules to regulate four types of anabolic steroids.

Earlier, during his presentation to the about 100 industry professionals attending the public portion of the summit, Catlin advocated an outright ban on steroids. A main reason for banning the drugs altogether is that a myriad of different anabolic steroids are available. Even restricting the testing to only four and determing threshold levels that would determine a positive test, he said, will still be cumbersome.

For example, stanozolol, one of the drugs on the list to be regulated under the RMTC model rule, “stays around in the body for a long period of time. It stays for weeks and weeks. It can be negative today and positive tomorrow. It is going to be very hard to regulate…levels can vary from day to day,” Catlin said.

Stanozolol was the steroid for which Olympic medalist sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive in 1988, causing him to lose the gold medal he won in the Seoul Olympics and be stripped of a world record. Johnson's positive created a major uproar within the world of international track and field.

“You ban steroids, it all goes away,” Catlin said.

Waterman said eight states have adopted RMTC model rules and that the concept of regulation “has a lot of momentum.” He said the steroid tests to be used in the U.S. are based on urine samples and modeled after those used in countries prohibiting steroids in racehorses. He said a mechanism for testing steroids by using blood plasma samples should be available later this year.

In addition to medication, one of the other focal points of the summit was the subject of synthetic surfaces and some of the problems associated with them.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the track veterinarian at Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course, reported on the initial results of information compiled from injury and fatality reports from regulatory veterinarians at 42 racetracks. During the reporting period, there were 244 fatalities from 123,890 starters on dirt, for a ratio of 1.96 per 1,000 starts. For the tracks with synthetic surfaces, the ratio of 58 fatalities from 29,744 starts was 1.95 per 1,000 starts ratio, a figure Scolay said “almost floored me” because the two numbers were so close to each other.

A panel of racetrack superintendents provided insights into the difficulties associated with maintaining synthetic surfaces.

About 60 summit participants were scheduled to conduct private meetings March 17-18, with a media briefing to follow on the second day of the summit, which was presented by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.