Faulty Testing Leads Texas to Drop Broberg TCO2 Case

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Karl Broberg Karl Broberg

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.”

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  • Andrew A.

    How often do we have faulty testing in this country? Nobody knows.

    • Fast Filly

      When a lasix comes back as more than fifty mg…dosen’t that show that the test is inaccurate>? No , the trainer has to get a fine and race taken away..I have argued with the RMIC about the different levels of bute, lasix and such with different breeds and different distances and alltitudes..they say it doesn’t make any difference..I don’t argee, but they don’t want to hear that.

  • Wally

    I hope that everyone on here that judges these trainers on fighting positives learns from this.

    • Old Timer

      Absolutely right Wally! We have come a long ways in testing, but there is still a long ways to go. For some unknown reason many people believe testing is infallible and shouldn’t be questioned, but this case demonstrates the need to constantly ask the commissions if there testing methodology is correct.

      Hopefully Karl’s owners are sympathetic to his situation, and this doesn’t cause irreparable harm to his reputation.

      • Harry

        This is a total Joke just another way of getting off!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wonder who was on the take????????? And how much did it cost him!!!!!!!!!!! Dirty!!!!!!!!! Another slam dunk for getting off that’s exactly why the government needs to step in!!!!!!! Way to much BS for sure Hey Carla should of thought of this one!!!!!!!

        • dcurtis

          Harry,
          You are showing exactly what Wally and Old Timer are talking about, are you a lab tech?

        • Wally

          Harry, one day I saw on the Internet the daily log of the DE racing commission which outlines horses scratched, claims, etc. and other happenings. One day in particular noted that the blood gas machine was giving false positives and was shut down for the day. Very scary for a trainer. Luckily it was noticed or someone would be on the Paulick report and you would be calling him dirty.

  • Hopefieldstables

    The ISTAT portable blood analyser will give an accurate and reliable reading for TCO2. However, it is not calibrated against the Beckman analyser. It will give a higher but highly correlated reading. The ISTAT uses whole blood immediately after sampling and thus centrifuging the sample is not required.

    The use of the ISTAT is becoming more common in many racing jurisdictions. It is used by the BHA in the UK. It is a small portable unit and allows a quick screen to determine an elevated TCO2 level.

    It is practice in these jurisdictions that once the ISTAT shows a positive, the blood is sent to the lab for the Beckman unit. The Beckman unit is the gold standard and the basis for the international threshold of 36 (37 in the US)

    The reading of 42.9 is an elevated TCO2 level from a reliable instrument. It is however, best practice to confirm the level on the Beckman unit.

    It is appropriate that the Texas Racing Commission did not prosecute further based on the ISTAT because this is not best practice. [Similarly, urine samples are also fist "screened"by one method and then "confirmed" by another more precise, usually using GC/MS, before reporting a positive.]

    The suggestion that the reading is “faulty” or that the horse did not have an elevated TCO2 level because tested on the ISTAT is total nonsense. The ISTAT is reliable but the result must be adjusted to the Beckman scale.

    Broberg is not the victim of a “faulty” instrument. Racing is the victim of an incompetent Racing Commission.

    • Old Timer

      Hope,

      I don’t think anyone said that the “machine” was testing inaccurately, it was the process of collection that lead to a false positive reading.

      “Those machines can give elevated TCO2 readings if the blood cells are not separated from serum through centrifuge 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.”

      You have to take into consideration all aspects of this story to get the whole picture i.e., machine works when correct methodology is used, stop using correct sample prep and machine gives accurate reading but is wrong, this is validated by other information stating sample degradation which would lead to a false positive given because of commission inconsistency in sample prep.

      • Hopefieldstables

        That is simply not correct. The Istat is used with whole blood samples and results are accurate once tested immediately. The whole purpose of a portable unit is for immediate testing.

        The istat result is not calibrated to the the Beckman instrument but the istat result is valid.

        42.9 is an elevated result on the istat. The lack of a centrifuge does not impair the validity of the result but it cannot be compared DIRECTLY with the 37 threshold for the Beckman instrument.

        Normal procedure is to use the istat as an initial screen and confirm with the Beckman. 42,9 on an istat warrants a second confirming test.

        Sample degradation would lower TCO2 levels not increase them.

  • bobbros

    Wally, just like O J with the blood, right??????????

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