Delaware to Take Tougher Stance on Blood-Doping

Delaware is taking a harder line on use of erythropoietin and similar blood-doping agents.

The Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, which already considers blood-doping a prohibited practice, may push for an increase in penalties.

And the Delaware Harness Racing Commission is prepared to implement regulations that call for a minimum fine of $10,000 and/or a 10-year suspension.

The harness regulation should be in place by January 2007. It calls for out-of-competition testing and confirmatory tests for actual blood-doping substances such as EPO, not just their antibodies.

Horses could be tested at any time after they are entered to race. If a horse is tested, trainers can request split samples. If there is confirmation, all horses under a trainer's care could be barred from racing.

"EPO has no business in a horse's system," Hugh Gallagher, executive director of the Delaware Harness Racing Commission, said in a "World in Harness" Web-cast interview with Stan Bergstein, executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America. "We're saying no to EPO in Delaware. I would hope EPO becomes a substance of the past in all of racing.

"Our attempt is to get our good owners away from bad trainers. We want owners to invest in horses and our racing (program). We will not tolerate any sort of foul play."

For Thoroughbred racing in Delaware, statutes limit the amount of fines that can be levied by the racing commission ($5,000) and stewards ($2,500). However, the racing commission has the right to revoke licenses with just cause.

"We're looking at increases in penalties, not just for EPO but for other substances," said John Wayne, executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission.

"The most severe penalty is when you revoke somebody's license, and we have the power to revoke somebody's license. That's our ace in the hole."

Wayne also said possession or use of blood-doping agents would be considered "cruelty to animals" as well, which would subject offenders to "serious sanctions" by stewards, the racing commission, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and perhaps racetrack management, which has the right to eject individuals from track property.

"I would doubt if there were any horsemen that threw the dice and used EPO in a horse, and we found out about it, that they would be able to race here again," Wayne said.

"When you're convicted for cruelty to animals in Delaware, there is a section of the code that says you can't even own a pet for five years."

Though some horses ship in to race at Delaware Park, the track does have more than 1,000 horses on the grounds during its live meets, and barns can be searched at any time.

In harness racing, regulation is trickier. At Dover Downs, for instance, all horses ship in to race because there is no barn area, and state officials don't currently have the right to search training centers.

"We vigorously go after that--we're checking stables all the time to see what's going on with horse preparation," Wayne said of procedures at Delaware Park.

"We also confiscated tongue ties after races periodically and randomly, performed blood-gas tests randomly, and confiscated (Salix) syringes to verify their contents."

Wayne said Delaware officials have "taken a page" from the "Big Event Team" playbook. Members of the team attend major multi-breed racing events throughout the year to enhance security procedures.

"It keeps people on their toes," Wayne said. "It shows you're out there doing the right thing by safeguarding the integrity of the sport."