To Centrifuge or Not: New Spin on TCO2 Charge
Karl Broberg, currently the nation's second-leading trainer by wins, is facing possible sanctions for an alleged TCO2 violation from Jan. 26 at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas. Broberg, who began training in 2009 and ranked fifth nationally by wins in 2011 and fourth in 2012, is already unable to race at some tracks because of medication violations in 2011 and 2012 that led to a suspension of his privileges with The Jockey Club, effective Jan. 1, 2013.
A hearing was conducted on Broberg's case, but the Texas Racing Commission continued the matter after attorneys for Broberg said the blood sample taken from Jerry Namy's Storm's Promise – who finished 8th of 10 runners in the $75,000 Champion Energy Services Stakes – was degraded because it was not centrifuged (spun) on-site before being sent to the Texas A&M Medical Diagnostic Laboratory for screening.
Storm's Promise, a stakes-placed 4-year-old filly by Seattle Fitz, had a TCO2 reading of 42.9, well above the 37.0 millimoles per liter threshold level in Texas. Another horse racing on the same Jan. 26 Sam Houston program featuring four stakes, including the inaugural $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, tested above 37.0, but a hearing has not been held and the commission would not release the name of the horse or trainer.
TCO2 overages are often referred to as milkshakes, a once-common practice that involved tubing a mixture of liquids and baking soda into a horse's stomach to reduce lactic acid buildup. Other methods were developed to bring up the TCO2 levels without tubing a horse. Testing for TCO2 levels has dramatically reduced the incidence of milk-shaking. Texas tests all horses in listed and graded stakes races and may test horses in other races, but the racing commission would not confirm how many horses are tested regularly.
“I brought the case defending this because it didn't happen,” Broberg told the Paulick Report. “Plain and simple. It did not happen. The horse was not milkshaked. If somebody is milkshaking horses, they probably are doing it with every horse in the barn. I had two horses in the race. One tested good and one had this.”
Mark Fenner, general counsel for the Texas Racing Commission, and executive director Chuck Trout confirmed that the time of centrifugation of the test sample is the reason the case was continued. The race in question was held on a Saturday night and the samples were tested on Monday, they said, less than 48 hours after being taken.
A “best practices” statement from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium said samples should be tested within 120 hours “in order to limit sample degradation.” However, the RMTC document states, testing outside that 120-hour window may result in decreased TCO2 values, not an increase. The RMTC's “best practices” does not address centrifugation.
Centrifugation, according to a chemist contacted by the Paulick Report, is generally done to “ensure separation of blood cells from plasma/serum and to prevent hemolysis (rupture of the red blood cells), which can lead to degradation of some components.” The chemist said degradation “generally results in less of something, and I am not aware of any literature on TCO2 that demonstrates an increase in TCO2 levels following sample degradation, only decreases.”
Texas used to centrifuge blood samples, but then stopped, according to Dr. Ken Quirk, chief veterinarian for the racing commission. “We haven't done it in a number of years,” Quirk said. “We got advice that it wasn't necessary and was counter-productive.”
Broberg contends other test results, such as potassium levels of Storm's Promise, were extremely high.
“It was very clear,” he said, “that if you believe all the readings that the Texas Racing Commission brought forward, that horse would be dead. That was confirmed by both sides of the table. That should have been the end of it.”
Broberg, who has been excluded from Remington Park because of The Jockey Club suspension of privileges, said he is getting “a horrible reputation for a couple of Bute overages and a couple of DMSO overages. We pride ourselves on not having a bunch of vet bills. That's the reason I got into the business.”
Broberg, a Chicago native, was an owner before taking out his trainer's license in 2009. He owns many of the horses he trains. He's won 168 races in 2013 from 645 starters, second only to Steve Asmussen.
The Jockey Club suspension of privileges came after he received a 2011 phenylbutazone overage in Louisiana in 2011, three DMSO overages in Oklahoma in 2011, and a phenylbutazone overage in Arkansas in 2012. All are considered minor violations of therapeutic medications.
In an Oklahoma lower court ruling earlier this year upholding Remington Park's exclusion of Broberg and several other trainers, Judge Bill Graves wrote that a horse trained by Broberg in Texas tested positive for the Class 1 drug dermorphin, but the presence of the powerful substance (aka frog juice) was not confirmed in a split sample and no complaint was filed. “After this, the Texas Racing Commission discovered a vet going into Broberg's stalls with four loaded syringes,” Graves wrote. “Broberg was not charged, but the vet was.”
Broberg said he has spent $10,000 on the TCO2 case, which he calls a “frivolous deal,” and he's upset the hearing was continued by the Texas Racing Commission.
“Every bit of enjoyment has been completely drained from the sport for me,” he said. “Lone Star Park has the same owners as Remington Park, and they let me run at Lone Star. My trainer's license is valid in Oklahoma and I'm running a few horses in Tulsa (Fair Meadows). I'm still bitter over this deal at Remington Park. It's cost me money and clients, and it's costing me future clients.”