Officials: Vodka Used as Tonic for Jittery Racehorses

Based on field reports that racehorses are receiving vodka intravenously in an attempt to calm them down before races, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has authorized laboratories to develop a test for alcohol.

RMTC officials and horsemen's representatives said they've heard vodka is being used in horses, but they don't know to what extent. They believe it's injected about four hours prior to a race because it quickly metabolizes and thus becomes difficult to detect.

"There hasn't been a test for it--that's part of the problem," RMTC executive director Dr. Scot Waterman said. "We feel we can develop a test, and the labs are working on it. We're hearing (alcohol) actually is being used to calm a horse down that might be nervous. They're trying to take off the edge (when a horse is in the paddock)."

When asked if other forms of alcohol such as whiskey could be used for the same purpose, Waterman said the alcohol must be clear like vodka or grain alcohol. He said it's believed the typical dose is about 60 milliliters.

Because there's no test for alcohol, it isn't a classified substance under RMTC and Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines.

"It's not a classified agent, but I can almost guarantee it will be classified," Waterman said. "It could be a Class 2 or Class 3 substance. But it will dry up quicker than prohibition if we're able to develop a test for it."

Class 2 and Class 3 substances (Class B under the new RMTC guidelines) could have medical uses but are believed to impact performance. Under proposed RMTC penalty guidelines, a Class B first offense calls for disqualification and loss of purse in the absence of mitigating circumstances, and a horse must pass a commission-approved examination before it's eligible to race. A trainer would get a 15- to 60-day suspension and a $500 to $1,000 fine.

The RMTC thus far has funded research projects worth $621,000 at six laboratories. RMTC chairman and Jockey Club executive director Dan Fick said the group is close to having a confirmation method for erythropoietin--the blood-doping agent known as EPO--and hopes to develop a detection method for cone snail venom.

Fick said the RMTC also hopes to have research done on gene doping, as well anabolic steroids and corticosteroids. He also said the RMTC has discovered "compounded" products being marketed in barn areas; though alleged to be performance-enhancing, they may not deliver the desired result, he said.

Having had success with security teams at major racing events, the RMTC hopes to have a bigger presence this year. And Fick said the effort would go beyond graded-stakes days at racetracks.

"We're going to do some undercover work and look at suspected violators a little harder than we've been looking at them," Fick said. "We're going to expand what the (big event teams) have been doing."