Faulty Testing Leads Texas to Drop Broberg TCO2 Case
The Texas Racing Commission has dismissed its case against Karl Broberg, currently the second leading trainer in the U.S. by wins, for an alleged TCO2 violation at Sam Houston Race Park Jan. 26. A second TCO2 complaint against an unnamed trainer whose horse tested above the 37.0 limit that same night has also been dismissed, said Mark Fenner, the TRC’s general counsel.
Both of the alleged violations were dismissed because the method of collection and handling of blood samples was not compatible with the type of equipment being used to measure total carbon dioxide (TCO2, commonly referred to as milkshaking a horse through bicarbonate loading that reduces fatigue-causing lactic acid buildup).
Stewards dropped the case at the request of Texas Racing Commission staff following a hearing last month. The motion to dismiss read as follows:
“In light of questions that have been raised regarding the process employed to determine the total carbon dioxide (TCO2) level of Storm’s Promise, trained by Karl Broberg, at Sam Houston Race Park on Jan. 26, 2013, agency staff has conducted additional investigation regarding this matter. Having identified concerns about the accuracy of the calculated TCO2 level of Storm’s Promise staff hereby requests that this matter be dismissed.”
The dismissals come one week after a Paulick Report article focusing on the Texas TCO2 complaints said blood samples not being centrifuged (spun) at the collection site was a concern for Texas Racing Commission officials. That’s in part because the Texas A&M Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, the state’s testing lab, is using a portable blood-gas analyzer designed as a bedside unit to measure blood gases in critically ill human hospital patients. Those analyzers test blood immediately after it is taken from patients.
TCO2 levels are more accurately measured with TCO2 analyzers, rather than blood-gas analyzers. The machine on which the international threshold was based, however, the Beckman EL-ISE, is being phased out because of lack of parts and service, and some test labs, including Texas A&M, are using blood-gas analzyers. Those machines can give elevated TCO2 readings if the blood cells are not separated from serum through centrifugation within an hour of collection. If the sample is not centrifuged, the CO2 produced inside the blood cells can diffuse into the serum.
In the Broberg case, the sample that resulted in a 42.9 TCO2 reading (well above the 37.0 legal threshold) also had a potassium ion level that was off the charts, suggesting sample degradation.
The Texas Racing Commission centrifuged blood on-site when its blood-gas analyzers were validated, but later changed its collection procedures and stopped centrifuging.
Guidelines for TCO2 testing from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium refer to TCO2 analyzers (not blood gas analyzers). The only two RMTC-accredited labs, the Maddy Laboratory at the University of California-Davis and HFL Sport Science in Lexington, both use TCO2 analyzers.
In short, Texas was using a blood gas analyzer to do something for which it was not designed and its staff was not following the procedures used when the machine was validated.
“I’m happy it’s behind me so we can move forward,” said Broberg. “I’m very disappointed something like this can happen so easily.”