Therapeutic Medications Next on 'Super-Test' List

Therapeutic medications will be the focus of the next round of "Super-Testing," the results of which should be available the first week of December during the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing.

More than 500 blind samples from 30 racing jurisdictions remain to be tested for Class 4 medications -- therapeutic drugs with less potential to affect performance than Class 1, 2, and 3 medications. The drugs to be tested for are steroidal anti-inflammatories and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) other than phenylbutazone (Bute), flunixin (Banamine), naproxen (Naprosyn), and meclofenamic acid (Arquel).

The report, released Aug. 19 by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force says the use of NSAIDs is difficult to assess in part because permitted concentrations vary by jurisdiction. Twenty-six racing commissions reported that the presence of NSAIDs other than phenylbutazone, flunixin, naproxen, and meclofenamic acid in samples constitutes a violation.

"We're going to be selective for what we're looking for," Dr. Scot Waterman, task force director of methods and procedures, said of the next round of super-tests.

Waterman and task force executive director Jim Gallagher will participate in the Dec. 4 medication summit sponsored by the American Association of Equine Practitioners in Tucson, Ariz. The super-test results may be released the next day at the symposium.

The task force report, which showed 98.3% of 1,272 samples to be "clean," received generally favorable response, though officials acknowledged there is room for improvement.

"We're a pretty clean sport, but I'm bothered by the fact there was one positive for a Class 1 drug that's not supposed to be available," said Bill Walmsley, spokesman for the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "I'm also bothered by the number of jurisdictions still relying on TLC testing."

TLC, or thin layer chromatography, has been the dominant screening method for more than 30 years, mainly because of its lower cost and its ability to test multiple samples for multiple drugs. The report noted that TLC may not detect medications in very low concentrations, and also has a higher rate of false negatives than more expensive ELISA tests.

In Kentucky, the task force report was viewed as positive.

"It verifies that the game has been played on the level," said Bernie Hettel, executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission. "The industry needs to accentuate the good numbers in the report."

Kentucky, viewed as a liberal medication state, plans to rebid its equine drug-testing contract this fall. Hettel, who attended the Round Table with Frank Shoop and Frank Jones Jr., the commission's chairman and vice chairman, respectively, said Kentucky has "been in front of the curve by a year and a half."

The number of ELISA tests performed on each super-test sample ranged from one to 70, with an average of 20.3 for the 31 jurisdictions included in the survey. Kentucky's new testing contract calls for 30 ELISA tests and upgrades in screening methods.