Drug Positives Have Regulators, Horsemen Scratching Heads

Recent positives for aminorex, a drug that has had no commercial source since the 1980s and has no place in racehorses under industry guidelines, has regulators seeking answers and horsemen on the defensive.

There have been positives for the Class 1 drug, which is similar to methamphetamine, in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts in the United States, Ontario in Canada, and Hong Kong in Asia. Officials thus far can’t find a link.

Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said aminorex was known as “Ice” or “Euphoria” when it was in production. But he also said it’s not hard to manufacture.

“At this point, it’s a very fluid situation,” Waterman said during a March 11 presentation to the joint meeting of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and Harness Tracks of America in Hallandale Beach, Fla. “There are multiple investigations proceeding on a lot of fronts. There are very odd things about this. Certainly, the distribution of the positives is very unique.

“The other thing that is very unique is it hasn’t dried up. Once people realize we can detect a drug, they usually move on to something else.”

Methods to detect aminorex were implemented in 2004 in Ohio. This year, a veterinarian in Canada suggested the aminorex positives in racehorses could stem from use of Tramisol, a sheep dewormer that may aid horses’ breathing.

In recent weeks, 10 trainers of Standardbreds in Canada have received aminorex positives. Among them are individuals officials say have excellent reputations.

Waterman said “there’s no way (testing) could confuse Tramisol with aminorex. Could it be metabolized to aminorex? It’s being looked at now by several labs in the United States.”

The Pennsylvania positives have Thoroughbred horsemen on edge because of the state's zero-tolerance policy and the possibility aminorex positives have resulted from environmental contamination.

Waterman and others warned of “junk” products being sold at racetracks barn areas and training centers. The products, they said, could lead to inadvertent drug positives.

“Most of them don’t have labels and a quantified analysis of ingredients,” Waterman said. “Unfortunately, horsemen continue to put these products in horses. Veterinarians are just as responsible. We have to have the resources to go after the people marketing these products.”

In a related presentation, John Blakney, executive director of the Ontario Racing Commission, said province officials believe “medication control” and “recognition” of problems by industry stakeholders are important steps in ending use of illegal drugs in racehorses. He noted that from August to October of last year, five trainers received $100,000 fines and 10-year suspensions for positives for performance-enhancing drugs.

“We must recognize the cycle of abuse can be stopped, or at least limited or curtailed,” Blakney said.

Richard Shapiro, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, also called on owners and trainers to take responsibility and realize what’s at stake.

“I wonder where the conscience of racing is many times,” Shapiro said. “It’s time to tell the truth about what our problem is. The problem is we don’t have the tools. … It’s going to take the stakeholders to stand up and say, ‘We need to clean up our end.’ ”

Shapiro said in California less than 20% of trainers get the highest number of TCO2 -- or “milkshake” -- positives. Milkshakes, or bicarbonate of soda, can ease fatigue and are believed to enhance performance. Trainers believe they can be therapeutic in that they also help stop horses from tying up after races.

Shapiro noted racetracks are private property and their owners can exclude anyone. But despite the evidence, “not one track is willing to say, ‘We don’t want him.’ ”

Shapiro said cost in an issue. The CHRB received an extra $800,000 from the state to implement out-of-competition testing, which is performed on days other than race day and used to detect blood-doping agents administered days before or after a race. Still, California performs out-of-competition testing on only 27% of the horse population, he said.