Chasing the Frog: Keeping Up With Slippery Cheaters

by | 11.14.2013 | 8:25am
Dermorphin was originally extracted from the South American tree frog

Illegal drugs in racing are certainly nothing new. Horsemen were brewing up miracle potions to get an edge as far back as the days of chariot racing, and over time the drugs of choice developed in pace with human pharmacology. For trainers who are inclined to cheat by using banned substances, the drugs in their arsenal come in and out of vogue like bad Top-40 songs.

The most recent substance in this parade is dermorphin, a relative of heroin that is 40 times more powerful than morphine and is commonly referred to as “frog juice.” As more cases of dermorphin use come to light, regulators are learning more about how dangerous it is, and how difficult it is to catch.

Modern drug wars

These days, advances in technology make it easier to catch horsemen using illegal drugs to get an edge. Ironically, it also makes it easier for cheaters to ply their trade.

Dr. Rick Sams, director of the HFL Sport Science Lab in Lexington, Ky., said that when news of dermorphin first broke in 2012, he ordered several samples from commercial labs around the country to see what he was dealing with.

One of the first things he found was that the form of dermorphin that is being used in horses is actually not identical to the substance naturally found in tree frogs.

The version of dermorphin produced by frogs has a bonding structure that makes it dissolve rapidly in biological fluids before the substance has a chance to have an effect. An edit is needed to the bonding structure to make it hold together long enough to do its work. Initially, this caused a lot of confusion in testing laboratories, which had trouble pinpointing the structural difference.

It caused confusion among the people using it, too.

Several of the samples Sams purchased, and the dermorphin detected in some of the first positive tests, were identical to the chemical structure of the dermorphin found in frogs. This meant that some of the first trainers who were caught using dermorphin were using a version that didn't work.

Once he learned more about the molecular structure of the synthetic, modified dermorphin, Sams became even more concerned.

Shape shifter

Dermorphin is an opiate, another member of the family of illegal drugs of days past. As such it's designed both to be a painkiller and to increase locomotor activity. It turns out that only a portion of the chemical structure of a molecule of dermorphin actually accomplishes this task—the rest is along for the ride, meaning it could be removed or altered without changing the drug's effects.

Any edits to the structure of a molecule, such as adding or removing part of it, changes its weight. The detection of substances in a urine or blood sample is done by comparing foreign substances in the sample to the known molecular weights of certain drugs.

Because dermorphin's weight is so easily changed, Sams said that there hundreds, if not thousands, of possible variations (called analogues) of dermorphin. Figuring out which one to look for would take an incredibly lucky guess.

“Unless somebody comes forward and says, ‘Here's what they're using', and has a syringe full of it, we're not likely to stumble on this, because that's pretty much what it would take,” Sams said. “I could guess all day what kind of modifications somebody might choose to make in this molecule … I could do that and add thousands of compounds to that database, and unless I pick the right one, I'm still not going to see it.”

So, once he develops a test for one dermorphin analogue, someone can engineer another—to the tune of hundreds or thousands of possible combinations—and get away with it until science catches up.

To further complicate matters, it's not difficult to have dermorphin, or any other amino acid, made. After the commercial success that stemmed from mass penicillin production toward the middle of the 20th century, a dramatic expansion of laboratories and pharmaceutical research began. Today, there are numerous labs across the world that require only a chemical diagram to make a given amount of an amino acid, and will do so for as little as a few hundred dollars.

Even more disturbing for Sams is the level of veterinary, chemistry, and regulatory testing knowledge someone would have needed to correctly engineer and begin using dermorphin in horses.

“This stuff I don't think was on Wikipedia until recently,” quipped Sams. “I think the person [who started this] was trained. I don't know whether the person was a veterinarian or a biochemist or what. I suspect they know what analogues they could make or have made at relatively low investment and, if they know how we test for substances, they know that they can make those changes and use those compounds with impunity. “

An important distinction

One of the reasons dermorphin may be so popular is that it and other cousins of morphine produce a powerful effect on a horse—but it's not the one people think.

In humans, morphine and other opiates produce sedation and extreme pain-killing effects, because they deal with a specific part of the brain called the mu receptor. Recent studies have indicated that mu receptor drugs don't work the same way in the horse's brain—possibly because the horse has few mu receptors, or simply less sensitive ones.

“It is very difficult to produce any kind of sedation at all with an opiate in the horse. The horse is really unusual in that regard,” said Sams. “This has nothing to do with analgesia [pain relief]. They aren't good analgesics. You need to dissociate these substances from analgesia.”

Instead, dermorphin is excellent at creating “increased locomotor activity” in the horse—usually seen by rapid movement or pacing in the stall which is thought to convert to an increased capacity for speed on the track.

Because of this, dermorphin isn't just useful to trainers who have lame horses in need of some help to appear sound on race day—its ability to increase locomotor activity means it would manipulate any horse's performance, and the right analogue would be almost impossible to detect.

Going forward

Although Sams reports that he is looking into new testing technology for his lab that could one day make dermorphin analogue detection easier, he's quick to say that there are other substances found in animals that could be engineered similarly to dermorphin.

“There are others, fairly small molecular-weight peptides that have been found in a variety of animals that do produce effects similar to dermorphin, so there is the possibility that those substances can be used. For those substances that already exist, there's really no reason to make any modifications to the molecule until the laboratories learn how to detect it,” he said.

“I guess some of the good news is that not many modifications of dermorphin result in compounds that have opiate activity. But all you need is one. You can't just willy-nilly make modifications and still have opiate activity for whatever reason.“

All of this—the easy accessibility of amino acid production, the high level of education required to make these modifications, the limits to modern testing—makes Sams wonder: what else is out there that we don't know about yet?

  • WelbourneStud

    Very informative article.

  • 14151617


  • AngelaFromAbilene

    Check out the story on BH about our very own compounding pharmacy here in Texas that has come under scrutiny because of the products they are pitching on the backside. There has to be a special place in Hell for people who hop their horses with this crap.

    • betterthannothing

      Racing is not winning (see BH article re. TX compounding pharmacy) and can’t win without investing in modern security technology and installing cameras in all barns and wherever race horse go to prevent abuse and cheating of all kinds. All substances must be controlled before they get to horses. The threat of a criminal record and jail time would be excellent. Clean racing would have nothing to hide and equine health, injuries, diseases and ethical treatments could be publicly released.

  • 4Bellwether666

    The only thing that will slow down the lowlife cheaters and animal abusres in Horse racing is jail/prison time…

    • sinking ship


    • 4Bellwether666, Your evaluation is correct! Not until some considerable personnel changes are made as well as making some effort to develop a non political selection process to appoint decision makers, i.e. stewards and commission members. The latter being an extremely difficult measure to achieve. I believe that could be accomplished if enough stakeholders cared enough to put together a concerted effort but there is no evidence of that at this time.

      • AngelaFromAbilene

        IF enough stakeholders cared. That’s the problem. Nobody seems to CARE until it’s to late. Then they fall all over themselves trying to show how much they “care.”

        • betterthannothing

          Yep! They just do enough to keep the monkey off their back and an eye on their paycheck and pension.

        • Angela, As you may have noticed, I am on a roll today. They don’t even care after it is too late. Their only concern is to minimize any damage from their present difficulty. Doing something positive toward making for a better future is out of the range of a lot of these people’s thinking. It’s very sad because there is a plausible solution out there for almost every existing problem.

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            Mr. Baranello, I wish you would stay on a roll. I love reading your thoughts and ideas. Growing up on the backside, Stewards were highly respected much feared and when one spoke, everyone listened. Maybe that’s just me looking back in time through rose colored glasses but that’s how I remember it. To this day, everything that is done in my barn, is done as though a Steward is watching through the lens.
            You are absolutely right, there IS a plausible solution for nearly every problem. I don’t understand why people quite caring or when it happened. It seems these days, wether I am in the racehorse business or the cattle business, I am going against the tide. I do care about my animals, the perceptions people have of both industries and their futures.
            I maintain an open gate policy in both industries. I try educating the general public (consumers) on both sides. I have been pretty successfull in my endeavors. I have corrected a lot of misconceptions. But I am 1 person in a sea of many who only care about the dollar.
            I just don’t know how we are going to get the changes we desperately need in horseracing. I would follow all of the changes you specied above, I have nothing to hide. I have always followed the rules. But I don’t have any high profile horses and I am certainly not a high profile owner/breeder/ trainer. I’m willing to do anything to see horseracing again become the highly esteemed industry it once was. You tell me what to do to further the agenda and I will do everything in my power to see that it’s done.

          • Janet delcastillo

            Im with you Angela! But we must listen to our conscience…we are the little guys pedaling furiously behind the Lance Armstrongs of horse racing. But we can sleep at night…and hope that we get a level playing field. As I see responses from others on this site I get hope and think maybe we can be start changing the industry before its too late.
            I plan to present some ideas on this site and see the reaction…No one in the position of power has cared to listen and do anything that takes a firm stand. The use of Lasix, for example, that Breeders cup was to ban is a good example. Does the public know that lasix can weaken formation of bone in young animals? Imagine that some even recommend using it in training in youngsters to keep them from bleeding??? Don’t they want to know why they are bleeding? There are many causes but the common practice is to that symptom…

          • Janet, You are certainly right on about those in power doing nothing (Except attempting to serve themselves) about these problems. Where are Mr. Strawbridge, MS. Hancock and the others who spoke at the hearing last time? I don”t believe they have been heard from since. Also I must say that their politically correct statements served no purpose whatsoever. What this movement needs more than anything else is an aggressive, get down dirty, in your face individual who is well versed on the problems of the industry and can lead toward reasonable solutions. There have been years of wrist slapping and meaningless conversations and speeches which have advanced the cause of fair and equitable regulation about one inch and we are still twenty lengths off the lead.

          • Janet delcastillo

            Glad you still care, Lou! Keep up informing those who want to see change. Maybe we will have a ground swell from enough people to make changes.

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            Janet, I’m not going to hop on the no Lasix band wagon simply because I don’t use it. I’ve used Lasix on 3 horses, it didn’t help their bleeding at all. It was wasted money. I will gladly help pull the “No Drugs” wagon though. I don’t use drugs on any of my horses unless my local, non-racehorse vet prescribes them. Never have, never will. I think the Lasix debate is a red herring for the real problems on the racing side. Dex injections, joint injections, etc. I will agree with you on the harmful effects of Lasix on young horses and it does contribute greatly to their performance or lack off as they grow up. Many, if not all of a racehorses physical issues can be treated or prevented with real training, proper horsemanship and time. My granddaddy beat into me “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That is something I subscribe to in every aspect of life, especially when dealing with LIVE animals I inend on making a living off of. Please, throw your ideas out there and let those of us who actually know the realities of living and working in this industry debate them. We will probably not agree on everything but that’s ok. Open, honest debate is how change comes about. Along the way, we can help educate the casual fan to the why’s and how’s of the racehorse. I think it’s certainly worth the effort and who knows, if we could get enough of us “little people” together, just maybe we can get some action from the top.

          • Guest

            You said “They don’t even care after it is too late.” Then we will care for them—that is the jockeys and the horses.

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            I have always felt a moral obligation to those who have helped me make a living, ie. horses and jockeys. My dream is to have a place where seriously injured jockeys and other riders, can come and be taken care of just like the horses I take in. We, EVERY single person in this industry, owe that to them at the very least.

          • nu-fan

            Angela: I’ve had the same dream. Even worked out some of the details in my head. Wish our dreams come true!

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            Perhaps were we to coordinate and build a network, we can realize this dream. I have many facilities in place and I believe that is a much better use of resources than a “medical spa!”

          • nu-fan

            Angela: I’ve always thought in terms of helping those jockeys who were injured to get retraining so that they had other options in life to be valued in the workplace. Injuries vary. Some are so extreme that, yes, job skills may be very limited. But, many people need to be valued and be productive not only for financial reasons but for their own self esteem. In CA, there are educational opportunities in its very many Regional Occupational programs within the state. They are very low cost and the vocational fields are very extensive. Depending on the physical capabilities, I could see some of these ex-jockeys becoming veterinary techs. But, some may go into other occupations including computer technicians, culinary arts, medical assistants, and the list goes on. But, I also realize that, while most of these programs are free for high school aged students, adults do pay a fee–but, still very low in cost. I would think that there would be some in the horseracing industry that might be more than willing to help assist with these fees. But, I do not know what Texas offers. I would just like to see that even ex-jockeys have an “aftercare” program, too.

          • nu-fan

            Lou: I always welcome your comments. Be free to be “on a roll” any day.

      • Guest

        Just changing decision makers won’t do it because it is after the fact on drugs they can’t even catch. The cheaters are always one step ahead of the chemists. I agree with Betterthannothing that there should be much more sophisticated security and 24/7 surveillance of horses with a camera in every stall. There should be a neutral person with a vetted background check hired by the track to work in each barn. Every single time a horse is treated for any single thing, that person holds open a sealable plastic bag–the vet drops his/her syringe or whatever into the bag and it is sealed. NO ONE but THAT vet has touched the syringe or whatever equipment the vet has used. The horse’s name, vet’s name, date, time, owner, supposed substance etc. is labeled on the outside and those bags are immediately collected and turned in to the state vet and refrigerated. All of this would be on camera. If a vet is seen treating a horse NOT documented he would be in trouble. This would cost some money but no more than is being spent chasing the cheaters for drugs there is no tests for, and the ones who are caught just go lawyer up. Surveillance on camera would be a tough catch to fight. Not all trainers /vets bill owners—they don’t document what they do and the trainer pays on the side. Some owners are totally unaware of what is being done to their horses. Some are not, and don’t care—they just want to win. The expense of catching cheaters this way is much less than injured jockeys, injured and dead horses. Racing has been going downhill for years and it is getting worse. If we don’t clean up the drugs and run off the abusers permanently, NOT let another trainer train their horses temporarily or go race in another state, we are doomed and it will be our own fault.

        • nu-fan

          Guest: From a fan–you have provided great comments and realistic viewpoints. Yes, the industry may be doomed and it would be their fault to allow this to happen.

        • betterthannothing

          Well said! If only racing really wanted to be clean, there would be so many winners, including all horses and good guys!

        • Vienna, Virginia

          A nice idea but flawed, for this reason and perhaps others: For horses not stabled on the backside of any track; typically shipped in for race day. How do you propose to monitor those horses? And please don’t tell me that horses who run must be stabled at the track. Ain’t gonna happen.

          • Vienna, You and many others, including too many regulators, do not have a valid understanding of the day to day nuances of properly regulating thoroughbred horse racing. It is the ABSOLUTE responsibility of the trainer of record for every horse in the entries to protect such horse from the acts of third parties and any other means of possible contamination to a horse’s bodily systems. If a trainer is cited for having one of his /her horses produce a positive test and claims no knowledge of how this might have happened, they are still guilty of failing to protect the horse in question. Means such as cameras and other approved equipment can be of significant value in making observations, but as yet I am unaware of any requirement for a racing association to provide such equipment or service.

        • Mr / Ms Guest, I beg to differ. The change in decision makers will introduce the new policy of imposing sentences equal to the violation on the current crop of criminals among the trainers of today. I believe your suggestions re security, vets, syringes and so forth have merit. I also have true and tested solutions myself. As for the business of letting another trainer train any horses temporarily or otherwise that is not an arms length agreement sanctioned by the stewards will not be sanctioned by the new decision makers and will be dealt with severely if and when it happens. I have no expertise in matters of laboratory testing issues and therefore have no comments on the subject. Believe me the present system works very well if administered by good decision makers. There are not enough of those working at present.

          • Janet delcastillo

            You are so right..that is why the bill with senator Udalls office…S.973 is Senate bill… identical house bill is HR 2012 is so important. It is not federal intervention…all it does is put teeth into the punishment of cheaters and would put all testing into the hands of one entity…such as the testing group for the Olympics. Since we don’t seem to be able to monitor our own business after years of talk …maybe this will help.

          • nu-fan

            Janet: I’ve already contacted my elected official. Since he is a physician and has more medical/pharmaceutical knowledge and experience than most of the other elected officials, I have asked him to step up and provide guidance to get this bill passed. Hope he does so. I encourage everyone else, interested in the passing of H.R. 2012 or S.973, to do the same.

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            Unfortunately, my reps are bafoons. None the less, I penned, emailed and called all 3 of them. For all the good it will do. None of them even know which end eats and which end produces fertilizer! One of them even has/had horses with a “frog juice” trainer.

          • nu-fan

            Angela: But, you made the effort to contact your elected representatives. I know that things, sometimes, seem like such a long-shot that it may not be worth the effort. Not that many years ago, I had an experience where I asked someone for something that I didn’t think would be accepted. BUT, my request was granted! It made me wonder how many more things I could have accomplished had I only asked. Never know but it’s always worth trying for.

          • Guest

            Mr. Baranello, I said “JUST changing decision making makers won’t do it”, meaning they are part of the equation. But they are only “part.” They can’t be everywhere monitoring everything at one time. They must follow national uniform rules, drug rules, which should be tough and apply to all trainers, large and small. Trainers who have horses training on the grounds at ANY racetrack should be required to sign a “Trainer Responsibility Form” that should he/she get caught with a bad test, one that has been split and sent to 2 different labs with the same results, he/she takes the punishment immediately and has surrendered their option to “lawyer up” on the Trainer Responsibility Form. If a horse is brought in from somewhere else or a training center, that horse immediately gets a blood and urine sample by the State Vet, then follows the procedure under the camera in the stall as I have explained above.

            You said ” Believe me the present system works very well if administered by good decision makers.” I disagree. We are still chasing drugs there are no tests for. You have read the stats on how few tests are actually tested. Cheaters are always one step ahead. That’s why true surveillance/camera in stall will stop it before it happens. That way, if a horse gets a bad test, you will know exactly which vet to go to. Punishment applies to them also, having also signed a Veterinary Responsibility Form so they can’t go lawyer up and still practice either. So many jockeys would not be injured and so many horses would not be injured or killed. Catch the cheaters BEFORE this happens. Make this the KING of SPORTS once again.

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            I am all in favor of out of cometition testing and would be more than willing to have my horses tested when I haul them in. Send a racing official out to my farm and they can test any and every animal on my place. There will be nothing that shows up that is not prescribed by my LOCAL vet. I wouldn’t even mind cameras in the stalls if the viewer didn’t mind the occassional “use of the facilities.”

          • nu-fan

            Angela: That is the point isn’t it? You have nothing to hide. Those who are resisting this kind of scrutiny…why? As far as cameras in one’s stall, doesn’t it also serve as a form of protection in case someone else, who is unscrupulous, from doing anything that might harm your horses?

          • betterthannothing

            “If a horse is brought in from somewhere else or a training center, that horse immediately gets a blood and urine sample by the State Vet,”

            That would be far better than what we have now, however, horses can be doped and blocked days before a race and test clean by the time they arrive at the racetrack. EPO, Mircera-type dope has to be caught within 48 hour (maybe 72 hour) of injection and the doping effect lasts much longer than that. A couple of years ago or so, 72% of French professional cyclists claimed to be asthmatic to take Clenbuterol between competitions. The drug is banned from all sports as as stimulant during competition. Their doctors must disclose treatments and racers must test clean during competition. They would not take such dangerous drug if it had no doping effect during competition. (Diuretics are considered doping agents and are banned around competition as well).

            This is why I believe that surveillance cameras and tracking of horses, strict control of all substances wherever, whenever horses are in race training (which would be an extra expense for those who choose to race “off the farm” but not so much for trainers at larger training centers), transparency of health records, a rewarding whistle-blower, investigative system and severe bans and fines for trainers, owners, vets and enablers are prime weapons against drug and horse abuse and doping.

        • Ann M. Adam

          I agree with all; the above quest, Lou Baranello and better than! All of these working together would move clean racing forward more quickly. We also much create a situation where the water, hay & oats people feel safe enough to at least vocally join the clean-up of the sport if not even blowing the whistle! Thank goodness security equipment is now affordable because I’m sure they also worry that their horses are vulnerable to being harmed if they do join those backing clean racing!

  • Some very informative reporting on a very ugly situation, Ms Voss. Excellent job!

  • Greg

    Modern day Thoroughbreds are about 98% genetically the same. Isit any wonder those trainers who train for the ultra wealthy win at such an incredible %? 20+ positive tests for some trainers, 3 positives should get a lifetime ban, one for demorphin shouls get lifetime ban, as well as for the owner.

  • Old Timer

    Wow, best article I have read here on PR in a long time! Excellent coverage and in depth reporting, and not a lot of bs, just plain fact. Excellent job Voss!

    As for the topic of concern, you are never going to find all the cheats. Its just that simple, and people need to realize its that way in all sports, not just horse racing. Where there’s an edge someone will take it. Sad, but true. Darned people that just don’t care about sport, or fairness, or even the consequences, really suck the life out of the game.

    I do applaud the testing labs for doing their darnedest to try and find the latest and greatest drug thought. Gives them work forever! Its the best kind of job security around, and articles like this help ensure that. Not that its a bad thing, but I believe complete disclosure is always good for labs trying to find drugs. There’s always two sides of a story. Keep up the good work Dr. Sams

  • Patricia Jones

    read bh article yesterday now this at least it is coming to light these people need to go to jail new fans are not attracted to a sport that deals in illegal

  • Ben Hogan

    This drug has rampant use in NM and the few that have been caught are given harsh penalties but they only have to transfer the horses into another trainers name and they are allowed to continue on with their training while stewards look the other way.A ruled off trainer should not be allowed on the grounds of any sanctioned training center or allowed any contact with former owners or employees.

    • azeri1

      Yes NM seems to be the capitol of “Frog Juice” usage,First national story came out of Rialto.

  • Tinky

    “So, once he develops a test for one dermorphin analogue, someone can engineer another—to the tune of hundreds or thousands of possible combinations—and get away with it until science catches up.”

    Just as it was/is for EPO, and other PEDS. This is why the only was to stop such abuses is either by adopting a Hong Kong model (won’t happen), or turn every substantial case over to Federal authorities, so that the cheaters know that if, by chance, they are caught, their lives are likely to be ruined.

    • LongTimeEconomist

      Tinky, how do they handle it in Hong Kong?

      • Tinky

        No private vets, so all work is done by HKJC vets. Extremely tight security, to a level almost unheard of elsewhere around the world. The most sophisticated testing labs in the world. Very tough penalties for those caught cheating (or attempting to do so). Ask Patrick Biancone, who was (predictably) welcomed with open arms by the American racing industry after he was booted out of Hong Kong (and before that, France) for cheating.

        To be fair, it is a much easier task to oversee such a small physical area, and relatively few horses and trainers. Nevertheless, the simple step of replacing private vets with Association vets would have a huge impact if implemented here. It will never happen, of course, as the belief in “free enterprise” is too deeply imbedded, and many of those in power would privately prefer not to crack down on cheaters.

  • betterthannothing

    If racing wants to be humane, safer, fair, respectable and healthy, it must stop chasing endlessly after the abusers and cheaters and must PREVENT abuse and cheating first and foremost. Prevention should begin with security, 24/7 surveillance of horses and tracking at least one month before a race along with complete control of all substances and treatments given to horses and transparent equine health and medical treatments.

    Efficient, uniform abuse, drugging, doping, endangerment, injury, death prevention would be a tremendous moral booster inside the industry, a magnet for desirable owners and trainers and a far better investment than the hopeless, painful situation horses, riders and ethical horsemen are enduring.

    • nu-fan

      Yes, prevention is always the best route to go in keeping cheats out–in everything, not just racing. But, that there will always be those who figure out how to avoid detection. Also, however, there also needs to be severe consequences for those, in this case, who choose to cheat. I also wonder how many potential owners (and others) in horseracing, avoid participating in it because they know that they would be entering an industry that they cannot be a part of? That might represent a loss for the industry if that is the case.

      • betterthannothing

        Nu-fan, Yes, severe consequences need to be part of the solution. Crimes are being committed and not treated as such in racing. The USADA, FBI, RICO and jail time should be part of the solution to eliminate hardcore abusers and cheaters.

        I would be good to replace ruthless owners with caring, ethical ones.

        • nu-fan, you and betterthan are both correct about the lack of severe consequences. I have been pounding on that very issue for a couple years only to have it fall on too many deaf ears. Check out my blog. We need more followers who believe in the same things that we do.

          • nu-fan

            I once worked with teenage felons here in CA. When the state passed, many years ago, the “three strikes” law, many of these youngsters paid attention. Some had their gang tattoos removed and stopped their association with those others who were very bad influences. In many crimes, having known severe consequences does prevent these crimes from occurring. Although not 100% effective, some is better than none.

        • AngelaFromAbilene

          Once upon a time, there were severe consequences. The mere threat of suspension was enough to keep the majority of participants in line. It would be good to replace the ruthless owners but it would also be great to replace “needle trainers” with horsemen.

          • betterthannothing

            Well said!

    • fb0252

      big waste of resources imo. rececent JC study–what was it 1/2 of 1% were caught with performance enhancers in last 5 yrs? Racing has much bigger fish to fry. u mentioned a couple–humane, safer. anther is: $$$ and how to market. when resources are there u can look for the last cheater.

      • betterthannothing

        You’ve got to know that the essence of cheating is getting away with it. Why do you think those compounding pharmacies are thriving? Can’t market a wreck. Waste of $$$. Clean the joint first then market how clean, safe and fun it is.

        • fb0252

          spend a little time on backstretch. u will see most are honest. using limited and vast resources to catch the few who are unable to train a dog to bark and very rarely win anything despite their cheating hardly seems way to go to me. since the issue is constantly in our faces, better imo to provide a grant to someone to research whether performance enhancers are really the problem cracked up to be. The dirty little secret is that there are plenty of “legal” performance enhancers that mimic the exact same thing as the illegals. Check it out here:

          testosterone nation

          • betterthannothing

            Abusers and cheaters don’t post “Dishonesty Thrives Here” signs at their barn doors. It is no secret that legal meds are used to enable/enhance performance.

          • fb0252

            u have been on the back stretch and you know all this?

        • Hamish

          Clean the house thoroughly first so that the stench isn’t what it is today. Then, perhaps someone will actually buy it! Wouldn’t spend on nickel on promo and marketing until we have something worth consuming.

          • betterthannothing

            Some still believe that marketing is the answer. No, as long as racing has not repaired its image which must begin by protecting its horses on and off track.

  • Olebobbowers

    I must say, I admire the first person that thought a tree frogs juice could enable 1,100 lb. horses to win races as much as I admire the first person that opened and ate a clam…jus sayin’…

  • Roisin

    The people who engineered this substance and those in the compounding pharmacies are educated professionals ! Lots of research work went into producing and modifying these drugs . I wonder what else they will do for money !! How sad, as well as scary, these individuals use their knowledge in such illegal, if not sinister, activities.
    And the problem of cheaters in racing is the punishments did not fit the crime to begin with, it was more or less tolerated. When something is tolerated one can expect more of it. Did racing not see the writing on the wall !!

    • betterthannothing

      I wonder how they “vet” those drugs before selling them to abusers and cheaters? Do they test them? On horses? How extensively? Where?

      • Roisin

        I believe this whole nasty situation is a lot more extensive and involved than we are seeing at this point. This may just be the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” And as they say, truth can be stranger than fiction !

    • nu-fan

      “When something is tolerated one can expect more of it.” EXACTLY! And, for the industry to not do anything, but throwing up their hands in resignation, means that they are shirking their responsibilities. Not acceptable.

  • zak kinneman

    This is an industry that is unwilling to deal with rampant cheating! Terrible! My oh my! Something must be done! Punish Them! New drugs, dead horses, broken jockeys! Horrible!! What a bunch of…Hey look, the Keeneland November sale is way up! Things are great! People are spending insane amounts for babies and mares! The industry is making a dramatic comeback, what a business! Sorry, what were you talking about…

  • DinkyDiva

    This is not good at all!

  • azeri1

    There are mu receptors in the synovial membranes of horses. So even though the horse has less mu receptors than a human the fact that mu receptors will promote uptake of demorphin means that a horse will keep running through pain. It may not be a good analgesic, but essentially giving a horse this substance will block pain. Now as is stated this will also allow a horse to become more animated and even agitated. Essentially this is the most dreaded set of drug effects that can be produced. Imagine if you gave an athlete who had just stressed fractured his ankle a pain blocker and then gave him an amphetamine and sent him off to run a marathon. Take away his ability to cognitively evaluate the situation and you will have an athlete who will most likely shatter a bone or at minimum, cause progressive damage to an already traumatized injury site. This is exactly what happens when we give even a slightly compromised equine athlete demorphin. The drug has absolutely no place in equine performance. It’s a travesty!

    • Beach

      Yes and the deal is that, even if the human athlete shatters his bones, he might be hard to fix but he will not be put to death.

  • Mimi Hunter

    Very good article. Thank you Ms. Voss!! Sounds like back in the ’60’s where the underground labs were coming up with things that had a whole range of effects, but weren’t illegal yet. The same thing is being done for those parties [called Raves, I think] – if it can’t be detected, it’s real hard to make it illegal. Give it to a horse – the horse may run well may even win – but breaks down – there isn’t any way to find the drug responsible – and the connections get away with another one. Next time they use something just enough different and get away with another one. Maybe baseline studies of blood and urine done when first put into training – not sure if that would work – maybe someone can come up with something that will allow minute changes in their chemistries to be found?

  • Anon

    Someone who works for a trainer once told me I should go work with yearlings because “they aren’t all hopped up on steroids like the race horses.” Me: “I thought steroids were banned!” Him: “Oh um I meant, you know like their natural hormones and stuff.” Sure that’s what you meant! ;) Someone who works at a breeding farm told me he’s seen mares so hopped up on drugs after they got off the track that they tried to mount other mares out in the paddock because they thought they were boys. I’m starting to think the real reason horse racing has a mostly male work force is because women really can’t handle horses that are high on drugs, not because we can’t handle thoroughbreds as a breed. It would be nice to get an honest opinion.

    • Janet delcastillo

      Thoroughbreds not on drugs can be very full of themselves…with the proper equipment women can handle them…its really more of a finesse issue…With drugs more difficult but again women are pretty good!

      • Anon

        Yeah in the time since I was told that I think I’ve learned/seen it has a lot more to do with how any horse is handled from the time it was a foal. At the farm where I first took lessons, I handled mixed breed horses that were rude & difficult because they stayed in a pasture all day & nobody really worked with them! Then the OT thoroughbreds can be the sweetest & easiest to move because they were better trained. I’ve also noticed they tend to pick up on the attitude of their handlers & a more calm person usually has friendlier horses.

    • Cory Patton

      I hope you don’t honestly believe that sale yearlings aren’t given steroids….

      • Anon

        Well yeah I sorta figured that was happening since the auction books all mention how the yearlings are supposedly tested for anabolic steroids. I guess that helps explain why some of them act so crazy at the auctions! I eventually figured out the person who told me that was kinda full of crap about a lot of things though.

  • Ben Hogan

    Its been pretty well proven in NM that you cant outrun the guys hopping their horses.Most of the legitimate trainers are leaving the state as much as they can and going to places like Iowa and Minn.The quarterhorse group are mostly crooks and giving everyone else a bad name.That being said the trainers that leave and go elsewhere do quite well in states that have stringent med. policies.Thats tells me that TB trainers from NM are mostly on the up and up.

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      Please don’t paint all QH people with the same brush. While most of what the AQHA and AQHRA’s do, I don’t agree with, there are still those of us who do things the right way. There has also been a lot of positive change in NM. Much more than we’ve had here in Texas.

  • Harry

    The cheaters are rewarded with more stalls, more clients and soon are too important to a track’s race card to get rid of. On the other hand the honest, hard working trainer gets less stalls, can’t outrun the cheaters and soon has to go out of business. How is that for free enterprise?

    • Janet delcastillo

      Im afraid that s true…who is admired …who would you go to if you wanted a trainer an knew nothing about the business? the one with the best stats… trainers used to use races to develop their young the owner has to wait and the horse is drilled so he can win first time out…small trainers with a few horses tend to be more cautious…more hands on…and have less influence in the racing office. Its a fact of life…the racing secretary has to fill the races…they must accommodate the the trainer with 20 or more horses on track. I will soon present my “solution” to revive racing…maybe you all will listen and then the powers that be will take notice! I’ve been beating my head against the wall for years…maybe the little guys can have a shot…

      • Janet, I am interested in hearing about your proposed solutions. When do you think they might be ready for publication?

        • Janet delcastillo

          Im working on it this weekend…

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            Would you please post your ideas on Mr. Baranellos blog? With his permission of course. It is a much less congested site and easier on my oldtime computer.

        • Janet delcastillo

          Well, here it goes, Lou…

          I would like to share the efforts I have made in the last twenty five years to steer the racing industry away from the abuse of drugs. A little background.

          I started training horses by default…divorce, small farm, no income, and owned two race horses. Very innocently, I decided I would support the family training horses as I had the farm, and loved horses. (Note..I don’t encourage anyone to train horses as a living…better to do it around your day job…that pays the rent.) The following years were my “Internship” in the business.

          Because I had three children, I couldn’t go to the track to learn how to train from the fellows doing it. That became a blessing. I had common sense and a solid background in horses in general. I could ride well. I thought logically that a youngster needed a good foundation before asking for speed. With that in mind, I galloped the horses many miles, building up bone and tendon as they grew. It was easy to monitor the soundness as I knew nothing about any medications used to suppress the natural inflammation that can occur as the horse’s body adapts to the work put to him.

          If the young horse had any filling, heat or lameness after a gallop, then I would wait until it went away…usually about three days. Think of blisters…If you’ve never shoveled in the yard, you’ll get blisters before the callouses form so that your hand toughens to the job. You have to allow those blisters to heal before you shovel again.

          Imagine that training a two year old is to progressively build that Callousing around the joints and to allow the tendons and muscles to strengthen so that the animal may sustain the speed you will eventually ask him for.

          Training without medications allows the young horse to “tell” you when you are training too hard. If, from the beginning, you mask the those first signs, (heat, lameness, swelling) then you carry on and the body hasn’t the time to adapt. With the very potent medications out there now we are now able to train beyond what is safe for the young developing Horse.

          The SOP…Standard Operating Procedure…in many major barns is to bute every night with the idea that no swelling allows the horse to keep training. With that single act, the trainer loses the ability to properly monitor how well his youngster is responding to training. (also using bute sets up the horse for ulcers.) I share this with you so you fully understand what is happening to our horses. The anti inflammatory medications have escalated tremendously since the onset of Bute on the backside.

          Since I had no idea of the use of these meds, I trained and ran my horses drug free. I wasn’t aware of the “Race day” meds allowed in the state of Florida. I got a throw away horse from a children’s home, (horse was donated by Paul Marriott) and trained her myself, galloping in the orange groves by my house as I couldn’t go track…miles away and I had children. When I thought she was sound I would ship into track to breeze her at Tampa Bay Downs. In those days it was easy to get on track…no paper work…and I took her out the gates myself. Everyone laughed at me since I didn’t know routine and custom at track.

          Bottom line, that filly went on to be a multiple stakes winner and many times stakes placed. She ran on hay oats and water and was turned out every day in her own field. She ran more than ONE HUNDRED times and I was many times criticized for running her so often. She never went into a race unless she was sound and never ran on anything…I didn’t know about “Pre Race” medications. She ran only one claiming race in her life…the rest were allowance or stakes races. She was hauled out the morning of race or night before…a five hour trip to Miami…and beat some of the best horses in the country at that time. She retired when she got Potomac Horse fever and it compromised her hooves.

          The point of this dialogue is this filly, First Prediction, taught me that if a horse has talent, and you respect it, he can run indefinitely…I have never had a horse as talented since that time. But I have had many that run multiple times and never on drugs. If they show they can’t hold up to their own speed (lameness or bone issues) we stop and try to find them another career.

          With this in mind, I decided to help others come into the business. I have suggested that the Racing industry market to the Pleasure horse community to become race horse owners. With proper marketing and a more user friendly backside, we can bring a whole new group of small owners and trainers and spectators into our wonderful sport.

          I have a program to show how to market, guide and encourage new competent pleasure horsemen to come into the business without losing their shirts in the process of owning race horses.

          I wrote the book, BACKYARD RACE HORSE, to share information as to what to expect and how to become race horse owners and , if competent, trainers.

          I have gone to the Jockey Club, various State and Breed associations, and asked to speak at the Race Track Industry Meeting held each year in Arizona. I have yet to be invited to address any of the governing groups that make decisions in racing. I have presented a pilot program to the Florida Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders association Executive Director and President but never have had any follow up. Florida is a state that could really do an effective program…as could Kentucky. I know there are many potential owners out there as my book has sold over 25 thousand copies and I have acquired thousands of letters over the years from horsemen interested in the industry.

          What happens is the logistics make it difficult to enter and race from off the farm. One of the major aspects harming the little horseman is the Workers Comp issue in many states. The HBPA should have this as a top priority to help small trainers with one or two horses. Again, much hand wringing and talk but no solution. How about a fee each time horse runs? Surely something could be done…The industry is becoming full of what i call “Industrial trainers” who go through many horses, treating them all with “SOP” and those that survive make it to the races.

          Race tracks could fill more races from local horsemen and have less cost if they would embrace the concept of opening the doors to new owners. My presentation would cover how to do that.

          I apologize for taking so much time but Maybe some one out there will listen and consider thinking “out of the box!”

          I am available to speak to any group and share these solutions!

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            My above post to you should have been posted here. [Sorry, my technology and equipment is as old as I am.] I have your book and have always advised a potential new owner to buy it and read it. I’ve even loaned out. Regarding potential new owners, my oil man [the one who foot the bill on the latest well on our place] is considerring getting into racehorses. He lives in FL and has had friends trying to get him to invest in stallion prospect but made the mistake of asking me what I thought. I talked him out of that and gave my reasoning, maily that there are more than enough proven stallions and why breed for slaughter. I gave him more of an education than he bargained for. I have a lot of friends who wanted racehorses but because of the bad publicity, went to bucking bulls. Of all things?! It would be great if someone besides me told them the good things about racing. And yes, I honestly believe that there are still good things in racing. They talk to me, see what we are doing with our horses but talk to other trainers and think they have to pay a high dayrate and big vet bills to be competetive They think you have to drug your horse to compete effectively and that simply is not true. I believe/know I can out train any needle somebody can put into a horse. It is possible. You know it, I know it and every other REAL horseman knows it.

          • Janet delcastillo

            The shortcuts are taken to rush to the races …a little time and turnout do wonders and allow a horse to mature properly. Then they can last to race for years if not chemically pushed. We must keep trying! thats why I have a new group of two year olds to dream on!

          • Olebobbowers

            Janet, you continue to absolutely amaze me. I’ve worked under HOF trainers, worked the farm front, etc., and over my lifetime I can honestly say I never felt inferior to any other horseman, but it just blows me away to get that ‘lookin’ in the mirror image’ as I feel such joy knowing that possibly someone reading your book might just ‘get it’ and in doing so, the horses under their care will reach their full potential. BTW, I have had some of the greats under my care. Amongst them Wild Again, Interco, etc., and every measure you describe is exactly as I did things, as it all came natural to me as well. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you help at very least, one person to become a real horseman.

          • Anon

            Janet you sound like the kind of trainer I’d love to have if I could afford to own a race horse! I’ve always thought it was crazy that a five figure sum is usually the minimum requirement to join a partnership, forget about being able to afford 100% of a horse! I read an article about horse racing partnerships that quoted somebody from a big outfit saying “We tell our partners up front they should be prepared to never see their money again.” Really??? Sounds like a lot of rich people just join syndicates just so they can say they got to sit on millionaires row on Derby day. What a flawed business model!
            Why shouldn’t more people be able to chip in & buy a horse with $1,000 or $2,000 like getting a mutual fund? That would open up ownership to a lot more people and not just the super rich who just need another tax deduction!
            And you are right about marketing to pleasure horse owners. But horse racing often has a bad rap, I’ve heard comments from a couple of women at farms where I work say they don’t like racing because “the lip chain is mean” or “they brush their fur too hard at the track & that’s why OTTBs don’t like to be groomed now.” Some of it is silly reason, but horse racing needs better PR & better TV coverage before it will become more popular to a general audience.

          • Janet delcastillo

            We get a bad rap and some of it is deserved…but the real trainers still do whats best for the horse and the owner. I have never spent more than five k for a horse at any sale and much less for some. Competent pleasure horsemen could buy a nice weanling or yearling for under a few thousand and raise it to their level of competence…lots more to share …but we could bring lots of middle America into racing again. I just wish the industry would listen! Anyone in Florida is welcome to visit my farm…very humble but we get the job done…and our horses area allowed to be horses…and race!

  • wabstat

    No private vets!! I am never going to understand how gifted people who profess a love for animals on some level can be so integral to animal abuse and knowing putting animal life and human life in jeopardy. No private vets on track and horses shipping in must be cleared before racing. Cheaters and abusers ruled off for life and prosecuted. Time is running short.

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      I trust my private, non-racehorse vet more than any track vet. My private vet has the best interest and well- being of all of my animals in the forefront of his mind. He would never dream of hopping an animal for private gain.

  • Janet delcastillo

    When I first came into the racing business I found terms like “the horse only has so many races in him” or ” you can only go to th well so many times”. I couldn’t understand what that meant. How would a trainer know how many races a horse had in him? After years in the business and much experience on the backside I now want to share some insight. When a horse is being trained, an astute trainer is constantly monitoring the does the horse come out of that last long does it take for a filling to go down in a young horse, how are his knees, his ankles, his tendons. Remember with young animals, they don’t generally have pre existing problems (unless of course you just bought him out of a two year old in training sale!)

    With time, after the late seventies, I learned that the miracle drugs came into being. Trainers found that they didn’t have to worry about filling or heat because if they just gave bute (which was starting to be allowed across the land) or other anti inflammatories or those remarkable steroids, there was no filling and training could go on!

    Friends of mine who galloped for certain trainers would complain how some of their mounts felt so sore in the morning. The trainer would tell them…don’t worry..he won’t be sore on race day.

    It took time for me to learn that in the eighties and nineties and beyond there were many ways to “help” a horse!

    Having been married to a physician I was able to learn about the effects of certain medications that seemed so miraculous at the moment but later had devastating results.My goal is to educate the owners, who pay the bills to understand what they are paying for when the vet bills are as high as the training bills. If they understand that horses that need so much medical support don’t need to be racing perhaps they can have informed dialogue with the trainer. Time off for short term absolves many temporary problems. If there was more dialogue then trainers wouldn’t feel so pressured to run and try to get results when the horse isn’t right.

    With all this new “stuff” God help this business!

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      Janet, you and I have such similar backgrounds, philosophies, experience and ideas, it almost makes me think you are a long lost twin. Drugs do nothing but deter the natural response of a horse. There is no excuse, other than dollars, that training like you and I do and have done for years cannot be employed today. I have lost a lot of owners because I refuse to use anti-inflamatries on a horse in traing. If there is heat or filling, they get time off period. But other trainers tell them about how I “should be using” drugs and their hhorse would get to the races faster, thus making them money faster. A young horse or even an older horse does nothing but benefit from time and miles. The more miles the better as far as I’m concerned. I would love to bounce ideas off of you and get your thoughts on several training issues I’m having right now. You know your stuff and other posters would do well to listen to what you have to say.

      • Janet delcastillo

        Im in the same boat as you and other trainers think I’m just ignorant about the meds…I try to mind my own business at track and only train for a few owners that agree with my philosophy . For years my goal has been to train trainers. Thats why i wrote the book…to show cause and effect. my email- [email protected]
        lets talk

  • Ben van den Brink

    I tend to think an adjustment to the medication rules will finish this. Any detection from an stuff not known, will be automatic an class 1 verdict, The fines therefore should be considerable on the up.

  • Beach

    “I think the person [who started this] was trained. I don’t know whether the person was a veterinarian or a biochemist or what…”

    You bet your buns!! As a health care type, e.g., I know that Celexa has an active molecular side and an inactive molecular side. Lexapro cuts away the inactive side. This makes for a more potent medication in a lot of ways, that you have to use carefully, but the pharmaceutical purpose/clinical effect(one hopes) is a lower side effect profile for the patients. Same sort of thing with Effexor and Pristiq, I believe. BUT, it is one thing for me to KNOW this–it is ANOTHER thing to know how to do this CHEMICALLY. And someone either knows how to, or is trying to manipulate the chemical formula of dermorphin to get the “desirable” effect(s) but make it undetectable to the regulating labs. That takes special knowledge, and equipment, to do that. This is someone, or a group, with education, credentials, or both. And they also most likely care about $$ way more than they do “First do no harm”…

    But God only knows the long-term constitutional, physical or mental effects on the horse. This is simply an intent to cheat; it is not any sort of therapeutic treatment that has years of equine research or science to back it up. It sickens me that anyone would give this to his/her horse, just to hop him/her up for the sake of winning. It might take a little while, but the science/regulation WILL catch up to you–and then you’re busted, and I won’t shed any tears. Meanwhile I’ll also pray for horses’ health and safety, as I do every day…

    • betterthannothing

      “Meanwhile I’ll also pray for horses’ health and safety, as I do every day…”

      I pray for horses with you as many do. I pray for humane, clean and fair racing. Seeing what abusers and cheaters do to horses with legal and illegal drugs to run or sell horses, using dermophin is business as usual, a cruel business that must be and can be stopped.

  • Ray Gordon

    I suspect stem cells are even worse, since they can be “autologous” and completely undetectable. Pinions reportedly came back from a broken leg to win a stakes after he was retired. They are literally a fountain of youth.
    The best way t ostop all this? Polygraphs.

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