When horses load into the gate for this year's Breeders' Cup, it will mark the first time that every single American-based entrant has had at least one out-of-competition test (OOCT) performed before they were cleared to compete.
Like most regulatory programs, people didn't think much about the Breeders' Cup OOCT program until something went wrong. In 2016, Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Masochistic was disqualified from his finish after two tests revealed the presence of anabolic steroid stanozolol in the horse's system. The horse had been administered the drug 68 days before the race and trainer Ron Ellis had disclosed the administration to the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). The CHRB was responsible for a sample pulling and ordering testing on Masochistic, while Breeders' Cup was responsible for the expense of the test. Eventually, it came out that the CHRB was aware of a positive OOCT from Masochistic, but per its own rules was not permitted to divulge test results to outside entities – even those that paid for the tests.
That catch-22 prompted Breeders' Cup to take over its own testing the following year. The organization now works with local authorities to pull samples, but then Breeders' Cup orders the tests and owns the results. Next time – if there is a next time – Breeders' Cup will know in advance if a horse tests positive and will be able to scratch or bar entry.
The program has also expanded significantly from the past, when only about 40 percent of runners would be tested, according to Breeders' Cup executive vice president of racing and nominations Dora Delgado. (Though last year, 94 percent of American trainers participating had at least one horse tested.)
“We believe we're going to have all the U.S.-based horses tested,” she said. “Even if we didn't test them in June through September, we definitely picked them up in October. We'll have a very high percentage of European runners tested before they get on the plane.”
Dr. William Farmer, OOCT coordinator for Breeders' Cup, has tested more than 225 horses already this year – far more than will actually run. Some horses will be tested more than once.
The basics of the program remain the same: horses are tested for blood doping agents, animal venoms, growth hormones, anabolic steroids, ractopamine, zilpaterol, and other substances outlined in CHRB regulation. Horses may be tested at any time and horses must be made available for sampling on request. Horses testing positive will be banned from competing in the Breeders' Cup in the same calendar year.
Delgado said she begins working on a spreadsheet in June or July to identify top-three finishers of Breeders' Cup Challenge races who are expected to enter the Breeders' Cup, as well as other possible starters. Of course, when a longshot wins a Challenge race in September, the team can be caught off-guard.
“It's much more effective to test them a couple months in advance than a couple weeks in advance, but that doesn't deter us, we'll go ahead and pull samples,” said Delgado.
This has also required Delgado to work with international authorities to get samples from European and other shippers, which can be logistically challenging. So far, local and international authorities have been very cooperative.
“We do share our results with states if they ask us to. When we were in Kentucky we did share those results with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission but since we were the ones doing the testing we got those results first,” said Delgado.
In the Masochistic case, the horse was on the veterinarian's list several times leading up to the Breeders' Cup, since each reported anabolic steroid administration would trigger another 60-day waiting period before he could run again. Delgado said Breeders' Cup veterinarians (some of whom also work as regulatory veterinarians in California during the rest of the year) are keeping an eye on veterinarian's lists both for legal medication use and to get an early warning if a horse may have a lurking soundness issue.
“It's kind of a crossover here at Santa Anita because obviously they've added a lot more rules and protocols so in a way we're piggy backing on them,” said Delgado. “All of the California-based horses have to submit daily treatment sheets to the CHRB … we don't see those results and we don't want to see those results, that's between the trainer and the CHRB, but if there's any kind of question about a treatment, they'll have that evidence in front of them.”
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