Derby Horses Tested for EPO

The 20 starters for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) were tested for the performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin (EPO) May 2.

John Veitch, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, said the tests were administrated between 10 a.m. and noon on all the horses with the exception of Nobiz Like Shobiz, who had yet to reach Churchill Downs from his New York base. Nobiz Like Shobiz was tested around 6 p.m.

Veitch said the samples were sent to Iowa State University May 4 and should return the first part of next week.

"If the samples had been mailed as planned on Wednesday, they would have been back today," Veitch said. "But, because the sample on Nobiz Like Shobiz was taken late they will not be back in time."

If any sample is deemed suspicious, another sample will be sent to the University of Pennsylvania, who developed the test for the substance, for further testing.

A positive blood test for EPO could result in a disqualification and a redistribution of purse money, but wagering results wouldn't be affected. "There can be a disqualification, a fine, and a suspension," Veitch said. "If any horse tests positive, there will be a hearing and an investigation into how the drug got into the horses' system."

Veitch said the orders for the test came from KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood, who was acting under the auspices of the authority.

"There was no suspicion of wrongdoing that prompted the testing," Veitch said. "This is just another way to strengthen our drug testing program."

Veitch confirmed that Kentucky has had a standing policy of EPO testing the winner and a randomly selected horse after each race in the state.

A blood doping agent, EPO or Epogen, its brand name, is believed to increase the number of red blood cells by allowing more oxygen to be carried to muscles and making them tire less quickly.  EPO is also believed to be commonly used in human athletes.

The drug can only be detected for three to five days in horses, but the effects last longer.