The recent out-of-competition blood-doping tests for horses trained by the red-hot Bruce Levine at Monmouth Park were not the first such inquiry in New Jersey and won't be the last, promises Frank Zanzuccki, the veteran executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission.
Levine's horses tested clean for blood-doping agents, better known as erythropoietin, darbepoetin, epogen, or, simply EPO (brand names include Aranesp or Procrit). But Zanzuccki, the “EPO man,” is going to continue his mission to find cheaters in Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing in the Garden State and get rid of them.
Good for him.
Regulations allowing out-of-competition testing went into effect in 2007 prior to the Breeders' Cup world championships coming to Monmouth Park. Zanzuccki said nearly half of the competitors had blood drawn by regulatory personnel at multiple jurisdictions around the world, with the samples sent to New Jersey and tested for a variety of blood-doping agents at the state laboratory, which is staffed by New Jersey State Police personnel, at the Meadowlands complex. “We have been using the State Police equine lab for the past 30 years,” Zanzuccki told the Paulick Report. That's about how long Zanzuccki has been at the racing commission, the last 17 years as executive director.
All Breeders' Cup horses tested, just like Levine's, came up clean for illegal blood-doping agents, substances that have been especially prevalent in endurance sports like cycling. The blood-doping agents increase the flow of oxygen to the blood and reduce fatigue.
Zancuccki's EPO stings have produced positive results. Several months ago, six blood samples taken from horses trained by harness horseman Ernest Adam and owned by veterinarian Stephen Slender tested positive for EPO. The horses, which raced at Meadowlands and other tracks in the region, were in training at an off-track site, and the racing commission took samples after acting on information from what Zanzuccki termed “reliable sources.”
“All six samples were confirmed by the University of Pennsylvania for the presence of EPO,” Zanzuccki said. “Those individuals (Adam and Slender), because of the circumstances, were suspended for a period of 15 ½ years, each was fined $56,000 and their licenses were revoked.”
This week, a New Jersey Superior Court denied a stay for emergency relief filed by attorneys for Slender, who hoped to continue to operate his racing stable while the case is on appeal. “Mr. Slender is out of business,” Zanzuccki said. At some point, an administrative officer will hear the appeal and make a recommendation to the racing commission.
A previous operation conducted by the New Jersey State Police raided a different off-site Standardbred training facility run by a leading owner in New Jersey. Vials of blood-doping agents were confiscated and criminal charges were filed. Those individuals are out of racing, too.
Testing of Levine's horses was “random,” Zanzuccki said, even though Levine was winning at an unusually high percentage (almost 50%).
“We began this testing in October,” Zanzuccki said. “It had primarily been deployed in Standardbred racing because there had been no Thoroughbred racing in New Jersey until recently. There are other trainers on the list to be tested. Levine was a random selection.” Hundreds of samples have been tested so far from at least 15 different harness trainers.
Zanzuccki said the commission does not publicize who it tests and gets the results back quickly from the lab.
“We do not announce for obvious reasons,” he said. “We just show up and notify the trainer why we are there. We go about our business and acquire the sample. (The Levine case) sparked significant interest. I had on my desk the following day phone calls from three or four news organizations.”
Zanzuccki is not aware of any other American states conducting such tests, though the Ontario Racing Commission in Canada began out-of-competition testing in North America.
“This gives us a better opportunity to detect the illegal use of blood-doping agents in horses,” he said. “We've determined over a period of time that raceday testing for this type of substance is inadequate and we needed to look at this in a different way. We believe out-of-competition testing gives us the opportunity to better detect this type of substance.”
By Ray Paulick
Copyright ©2008, The Paulick Report
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