Kentucky Drug Council Discusses EPO Options

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council met Thursday at Keeneland to discuss options to identify and enforce the prohibited use of erythropoietin (EPO). The drug, commonly called EPO and marketed under the name Epogen, is suspected to be in use in horses at the racetrack, although the substance, which increases the production of red blood cells, has not been proven to enhance performance in horses. In September the Kentucky Racing Commission amended its drug policy to make EPO among its prohibited substances.

The council heard explanations of tests in the development phase that could eventually indicate a presence of EPO in blood, but still require more research. Of the three tests to determine if EPO is in use in humans, two cannot be used in horses because their physiology is different and it hasn't been determined if the third can be used in a parallel way in horses.

One of the Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay (ELISA) tests, which are currently employed in Kentucky, can indicate a presence of antibodies to EPO, but according to Dr. Richard Sams of The Ohio State University, the test in its current form is not sufficient to indicate a clear positive for EPO. Sams is a consultant to the council.

"We really don't know if its giving us a false suspicious positive," said Sams.

Members discussed a variety of enforcement options, from random testing of horses at racetracks, called "out of competition testing," to seeking the drug at its source, like pharmacies, to stop its circulation. Even the possibility of testing horses nominated to particular races came up. However, no decisions are close to being finalized.

Ned Bonnie, who directed the meeting, asked Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, and Alex Waldrop, senior vice president of public affairs for Churchill Downs, to respond on behalf of the racetracks to the suggestions at this meeting to get an idea of how capable and amenable racetracks might be to putting more enforcement in place.

"I'd rather move too fast than too slow," said council member and racing commission chairman Frank Shoop. "I'd like to know the tracks are ready to move in (if we choose these steps)."