Anne M. Eberhardt

PA Test Results: 98.8% Steroid-Free

Steroid use in horses in Pennsylvania is way down according to recent test results.

Nearly all of the more than 2,000 samples tested for anabolic steroids in Pennsylvania racehorses during a two-month period came back negative, state officials said March 4. 

A model rule for regulation of steroids in Pennsylvania will be enforced beginning April 1. The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission and Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission last year announced the start-up date to provide time for steroids to clear from horses’ systems.

According to a release from the office of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, the two racing commissions collected 2,061 samples during the two-month period that ended Feb. 22. Results showed 98.8% of the samples were negative, officials said.

“Pennsylvania’s horse and harness racing industries are the backbone of our state’s $1.5-billion equine industry,” Rendell said in a statement. “We are the first state in the region to begin testing for anabolic steroids in racehorses, and we are setting a national standard by ensuring that our racehorses are clean of steroids and any other performance-enhancing substances.”

Rendell recognized PHRC chairman Rick Abbott, a Thoroughbred breeder and owner, and his harness racing counterpart, Roy Wilt, for addressing regulation of steroids. It is expected most if not all racing jurisdictions in the United States will be regulating steroids in racehorses by the end of this year.

Abbott said March 5 the advance notice of regulation worked. Two years ago, 400 Thoroughbreds and 400 Standardbreds were "blind" tested, and 60% of the tests showed at least one steroid in their systems. This year, the results were quite different.

"I think the numbers tell the story," Abbott said. "It's clear the horsemen took us seriously."

Abbott said any calls for delays in regulation by horsemen's groups don't make sense to him when "98% of their constituents are already going along with it" as evidenced by the test results.

The samples were taken from horses at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack, Hollywood Casino at Penn National, and The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, a harness facility. Philly Park and The Meadows offered live racing during the two-month testing period, while Penn National opened Feb. 14.

According to the test results, there were 14 positives from 974 samples at Philly Park, six positives from 936 samples at The Meadows, and five positives from 149 samples at Penn National. From the 25 positives, 18 trainers would have been cited if regulations had been in place. One trainer had five positives, one had three, one had two, and 15 had one, according to the report.

Pennsylvania officials said they would perform more tests in March for informational purposes only. By July 1, any confirmed positive test will result in loss of purse, a $2,500 fine, and a 45-day suspension.

Penalties for the second violation will be the loss of purse, a $5,000 fine, and a 90-day suspension. A third violation would result in a revocation of an individual’s racing license.

Pennsylvania is the first state to base its testing program on blood plasma samples rather than urine samples, which allows for more precise and accurate detection of the steroids. Horsemen’s groups in the U.S. have said steroids should be tested in blood, not urine, because urine tests can be inaccurate.

Testing in Pennsylvania is conducted at the state Department of Agriculture’s Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory in West Chester.

Indiana will implement regulations on steroids April 1 as well. Other states are expected to come online through the spring, summer, and fall.