Rick Samuels

Kentucky to Examine Drug Levels in Racing Environment

Study could begin to shed light on contamination issues in equine drug testing.

Kentucky hopes a study described as a "first step" can begin to shed light on contamination issues in equine drug testing.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved $25,000 of Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council funds Oct. 17 for an analytical study to examine the levels of regulated substances—and other substances—found in the racetrack environment. An analytical strategy is under development in consultation with Kentucky's testing lab director, Dr. Rick Sams.

Samples will be collected from areas throughout Kentucky's racetracks throughout 2019. Those samples will then be analyzed by Kentucky's testing lab, LGC, through full spectrum analysis designed to pick up any therapeutic substance used in racing as well as a wide array of other drugs.

Kentucky equine medical director Dr. Mary Scollay noted that the study will not aim to determine any correlation between such substances in the racing environment and what is detected in the horse during testing. The study aims only to determine the levels of various substances found in different areas of the racing environment.

"This is a pilot project; this is step one," Scollay said. "This is not intended to examine the relationship of what is detected in the environment and what is detected in the horse. That's work for another day. But the first step is to see to what extent regulated or prohibited substances may be present in the environment in which our horses are housed."

Scollay noted the study will be similar to an effort by Steven A. Barker of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine that published its results in May 2008. Scollay said that testing capabilities have evolved since that study.

"There is no credible science that investigates the presence of regulated substances that may be present in a horse's environment," Scollay said. "Environmental contamination has been used in many cases as an explanation for the finding of substances in horses, and I think this conversation needs to have a factual basis rather than speculative, which is where it stands right now."

KEDRC chairman Dr. Stuart Brown said as equine drug testing has reached higher levels of sensitivity, the potential for contamination in these tests is an important area to research. 

"We can do some assessment in a controlled environment—something that's structured—that we hope will be repeatable, that we could get some really good information from that might lead to additional studies that would help us further our understanding," Brown said.

In Barker's paper, he noted that residues exist on the backstretch: "The environment of the horse contains residues of drugs; in the soil beneath their hooves, in the water that washes from their barns, on the walls of their stalls, and in the air they breathe, carried on the dust that circulates from all of these origins and sources."

In the Kentucky study, Scollay envisions sample collections from a wide range of sites at Kentucky tracks including stall floors, stall walls, near muck pits, and from inside the test barn. Timing of collections, expected to fall between 300 and 500 samples, could include before a meet, during a meet, and after a meet.

The study could reveal what substances linger in the environment and which ones quickly dissipate. The study should help point the way for more comprehensive studies. "It will give us a better sense of direction, some focus," Scollay said of this initial effort.