California Using 'Milkshake' Blood Tests to Track Trends

California will soon release the results of a study that will reflect trends in connection with blood samples taken from about 6,000 racehorses for the purpose of "milkshake" --or TCO2 testing-- last year.

California takes blood from all Thoroughbreds 30 minutes before post time. Samples are tested within 120 hours of collection; the maximum allowable TCO2 reading is 37 millimoles per liter in plasma.

Dr. Scott Stanley, associate professor at the University of California-Davis Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, discussed TCO2 testing July 14 as part of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association Medication Committee meeting in Minneapolis. He said officials in California already have noticed trends.

From more than 60,000 samples, TCO2 readings have been as low as 18.3 millimoles and as high as 44.8 millimoles, according to Stanley's report. The mean reading is 31.5, plus or minus 2.06.

Information in the database shows a slightly higher concentration of TCO2 in horses that finished first, second, or third. Officials will be able to track a horse's TCO2 history, as well as a trainer's history.

Stanley noted naso-gastric tubing no longer is necessary to achieve the desired affect of a milkshake, traditionally a concoction of bicarbonate of soda and a liquid that reduces fatigue. He said a paste that is about 50% bicarbonate of soda can be administered into a horse's mouth with something that resembles a caulking gun.

"People who know how to raise (a horse's TCO2 level) can do it very effectively," Stanley said.

Not all jurisdictions test for TCO2 levels the same way, and Stanley said some officials are pushing for the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium to call for uniform milkshake testing. Differing methods and opinions aren't limited to TCO2 testing, if discussion at the July 14 meeting is any indication.

Stanley also presented research findings that suggested the RMTC testing threshold for the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ketoprofen could be safely increased from 20 nanograms per milliliter to 50 nanograms per milliliter. He said a California study was ultimately more conclusive because it used about 30 horses in training; another comparable study sets the threshold at 40 nanograms.

The 20-nanogram threshold came from limited research on a handful of sedentary horses, Stanley said. The California data will be published, he said.

"I don't see how you could go forward with 20 (nanograms) unless you're doing it for political reasons," Stanley said.

In another presentation, Dr. Thomas Tobin of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center outlined the circumstances that led to the disqualification of Kentucky-based Brass Hat from his second-place finish in this year's Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). He noted Dubai has a "zero tolerance" drug policy, yet the Bradley family was given information on medication withdrawal times.

"There is an inherent conflict," Tobin said.

Tobin also said research on depo-medrol, the steroid with which Brass Hat was injected 28 days before the World Cup, shows various detection times. The withdrawal guidelines given trainer Buff Bradley indicated 23 days would be safe. Tobin said portions of the guidelines date to 1993.

The disqualification cost the Bradleys $1.2 million. Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, said the racing community believed "embarrassment" on the part of the Emirates Racing Association would lead it to "correct the situation." Maline suggested the National HBPA send the royal family and Dubai officials a "strongly worded" resolution in opposition to the decision.

A motion to that affect was made by the committee with a recommendation for the National HBPA board of directors.