Frustration Builds Over Drug Testing Delays at LGC Lab

by | 10.13.2014 | 3:04pm

The two investigators for the Indiana Horse Racing Commission weren't making a courtesy call last Thursday when they drove from Indianapolis to the LGC Science equine drug testing laboratory in Lexington, Ky.

They came to confiscate dozens of post-race samples for which LGC personnel had failed to conduct confirmatory drug screening after weeks and months of delays, then, apparently under orders from LGC management, had refused to send to another lab for testing, even after pledging to Indiana Horse Racing Commission officials they would do so.

Regulators in Indiana aren't alone in their mounting frustration with LGC, a British-owned lab that launched to great fanfare in December 2010 when it was known as HFL Sport Science (that company, with a long history in equine drug testing and also based in England, was sold to LGC shortly thereafter). Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear spoke at the grand opening of the HFL Sport Science lab, hailing the creation of 48 new jobs and a $4 million investment at their Lexington facility.

“HFL is establishing a world-class bioanalytical laboratory to deliver doping control and associated research for horseracing in Kentucky and nationwide,” Beshear said.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had already committed to moving its drug testing from the Florida Racing Laboratory at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, effective March 2011. HFL hired the respected drug testing expert Rick Sams, PhD, as its lab director.

HFL was one of the first of two labs to receive accreditation from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Its growing reputation, affiliation with the laboratory that performs testing for the British Horseracing Authority, and its state-of-the-art instrumentation helped attract new business. Maine, Virginia, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago contracted with HFL (whose name was changed to LGC earlier this year). In 2014, the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission signed a four-year contract with LGC, and the Indiana Horse Racing Commission signed a two-year deal with the lab.

The additional work – combined with new medication rules that require more specific testing for concentrations of permitted therapeutics drugs and that have forced trainers and veterinarians to change their pre-race treatment protocols – led to a backlog in testing samples at LGC.

Delaware Park, which opened its 2014 race meeting in May, began experiencing delays almost immediately. Screening results were to be received within 96 hours of obtaining the post-race sample, with confirmatory testing of suspicious samples completed within 10 days of receipt. Indiana Grand, opening the same month, also experienced delays from the start. Test samples in Kentucky, which were tested expediently in previous years, were also caught in the LGC bottleneck.

All three states adopted the RMTC's uniform medication rules.

Delays in Delaware led to purse monies initially being held up. When turnaround times failed to improve, the racing commission notified LGC it was terminating its contract when the Delaware Park meeting ends Oct. 22. “We are still with LGC at this point, but they were furnished written notice that we are terminating the contract at the end of the racing season,” commission executive director John Wayne said last week. “We will begin the RFP process again at the conclusion of the racing season and go forth from there.”

The four-year contract between LGC and Delaware allows either party an out “in the event of substantial failure of the other party to fulfill its obligations under this agreement through no fault of the terminating party.”

The Indiana Horse Racing Commission put LGC on notice July 2 that it was unhappy with the lab's performance in meeting its turnaround protocol: five business days for screening and five business days for confirmatory testing of “suspicious” samples. On Aug. 21, the Indiana commission announced it was transferring its testing to Industrial Laboratories in Colorado “on an emergency basis” for a minimum of five weeks, as a result of the backlog at LGC. That agreement with Industrial has been extended.

At the time, the commission said LGC “will focus on Indiana's backlog of confirmatory testing.”

But in early October, confirmatory testing had not been completed on months-old samples that were suspicious for an array of medications. Breeders awards were being held up and some Indiana horsemen, unaware they may have drug positives for therapeutic medications given too close to a race, fell victim to getting multiple violations because of LGC's failure to meet its own deadlines.

The Indiana Horse Racing Commission's executive director Joe Gorajec and deputy counsel Holly Newell grew tired of the delays. Under threats of termination of the $629,000 annual contract, LGC agreed to send Indiana's samples to Industrial Labs – but then failed to do so, the Paulick Report learned.

“If Industrial does not receive the samples by the end of the day tomorrow (Oct. 8), we will be inclined to terminate the contract with LGC immediately and file a motion in court to compel production of samples,” Newell wrote to LGC's international managing director David Griffiths, lab general manager Pierre Barratt, Sams, and others in an email obtained by the Paulick Report. “The Commission will pursue all remedies available to it under our contract, including withholding payment.”

lgc logoWhen Industrial failed to receive the samples the next day, the Indiana Horse Racing Commission investigators showed up at LGC's front door and demanded the samples, which were turned over without incident.

“It comes down to LGC having failed to do what they said they would do,” said Newell. “Litigation is always an option, but it would be in the best interests of both parties to avoid that.”

Kentucky's delays were brought to light in a meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's Rules Committee in August. Dr. Mary Scollay, the commission's equine medical director, told committee members that LGC officials promised to clean up the backlog in its delayed confirmatory tests by the end of September.

Last week, however, Scollay said, “There are still substantial delays and they have not provided the corrections they said they would. Our contract (with LGC) is up at the end of January, and I anticipate the commission to issue a request for proposals to check the market and let everyone who is RMTC accredited respond.”

Kentucky's protocol with LGC is for initial screening to be completed within three business days with confirmatory tests within 10 days.

LGC has retained its RMTC accreditation despite the problems in meeting its protocols for turnaround time.

Dr. Dionne Benson, executive director of the RMTC, declined to comment on LGC's ongoing problems but instead referred to the RMTC's manual on accreditation standards and operating requirements . According to that manual, accreditation may be suspended or revoked if a laboratory has a “material breach of contractual obligation to a state horse racing authority.”

LGC management declined to comment on specific questions from the Paulick Report but issued a lengthy statement in which it said the lab “has experienced an increased number of suspicious findings since April 2014 which has led to delays in reporting confirmed findings.”

LGC said it has “world-class drug surveillance laboratories, providing (unrivaled) and internationally trusted expertise in all aspects of doping for sports. We remain committed to using our science in the fight for clean and safer sport.”

Read the entire LGC statement

The problem, numerous regulators told the Paulick Report, is not in the science or the technology of instrumentation used in equine drug testing but in the overall management of the lab under Barratt, who is frequently in England (where he has additional responsibilities), and laboratory manager Lorie Bishop. Sams, who remains widely respected by the regulators he has been dealing with, is said to have his hands tied in management of the laboratory. “If they had put (Sams) in more of a managerial role they could have avoided a lot of these issues,” said one source familiar with LGC's internal operations. Others have said LGC is inadequately staffed and did not have enough equipment to take on the new testing required of the uniform medication rules and additional clients added in 2014.

If Indiana terminates its contract with LGC and Kentucky finds another lab to do its work, LGC could find itself with only a handful of minor racing jurisdictions for which to conduct equine drug testing in 2015. That's not the vision Gov. Beshear and many others had when the former HFL Sport Science lab opened in Lexington nearly four years ago.

  • Needles

    For pete’s sake, hire USADA already. They got Lance Armstrong, surely they can get the crooks and process the blood work in a timely manner. On a side note, so many people behind the scenes do not realize (nor care) that those tests are paychecks for trainers, grooms, hot walkers, hay guy, feed guy and veterinarians.

  • Richard C

    If LGC loses a number of contracts due to stumbling incompetence — it’s a welcoming salvo to the free enterprise system.

    • togahombre

      in terms of free enterprise, when they can’t do the job their expected to do, their replaced by someone that can, its called options, now if you go to say, public employee’s or a public benefit corporation, its a puppet show run by the politicians, pick your poison

      • Peyton

        It is already, at best, a puppet show. I would pick to try something different than the current situation which is not good. My poison would be a new, and hopefully improved, punch and judy.

  • Irving

    Just my opinion: There’s a good reason why there are ongoing delays on the delivery of these results: The tracks like it this way. They don’t want to see these results — If so, they would then have to rescind purses, then fine and suspend horsemen, who would simply take their stock to another track. And very few, if any, tracks can afford to lose entries. This is the unfortunate state of the game today, that makes it so hard on handicappers and honest horsemen.

    • Casey

      The unfortunate state of the game today is the very large number of people who are totally clueless about post race testing procedures, purse distribution, and adjudication of trainers with positive tests. Racing jurisdictions have created a huge disconnect between the public and the industry by not making this information more accessible and easier to understand

    • Billy

      And for some reason, they think it’s bad press to announce these things. Anthony Dutrow and Rudy Rodriguez are both sitting on suspensions in NY right now and have been for years, and nothing is said or done by the tracks in these cases. Doug ONeill’s recent suspension came from a positive a year and a half ago, and it was never announced ANYWHERE. Nobody knew about it. It’s insane. There’s a rumor going around New York about a young trainer that has a string of bad positives at Saratoga, but it hasn’t been released to the public, the media, the bettors….etc. Instead, the in house announcers keep mentioning what a great year he’s having. It’s crazy!

      • Andy in the desert

        That’s the rub. They are merely allegations until proven or dis-proven. And taking forever to get results is doing the integrity of the sport a huge disservice, perpetuating the stereotype of seedy, shady, under board operations.

      • Liz

        It’s called innocent until proven guilty. That is a constitutional right.

  • Peanut Gallery

    Something seems off in this story to me. Sams is the Director of the lab but the article seems to suggest that the overseas office guy or the woman under him are the cause of all problems? The latter is especially odd…is the lab supervisor over him or the other way around? Seems to me like a Director, instead of a subordinate, would be most responsible for how the location runs. Unusual how LGC as a whole seems to be dealing with a lot of issues, but one person in charge sounds like they walk on water…no prizes for guessing who the undisclosed sources are in this article or where they got their information.

    In my experience, the person working the hardest to lay blame is often entitled to some, but maybe I’m just cynical…

    • David

      It’s interesting that you are focused on the office reporting line and the distribution of blame instead of the encompassing problem. I was more focused on LGC’s overall failure to follow contractual obligations to the commissions rather than office politics that are referenced briefly. Furthermore, the article specifically says that the situation was relayed by “numerous regulators” and corroborated by the unnamed source(s). Sounds like you are an involved party looking to point fingers away from yourself.

      Or perhaps, as you said, you are just cynical.

    • PEyton

      I think HFL being bought by LGC has a lot to do with the current situation. This is almost a universal theme when older successful companies are taken over by larger companies. Lots of promises and hype to get the contracts but management is immediately doing things which negatively effect employees, moral, and productivity, and customer service.

  • Mr. Ed

    I’ll repeat Needles comment. Bring in the USADA and the sooner the better.
    Also, have big respect for Indiana who seems to be leading the way in drug testing protocols. Shame on the other states. Ban Clenbuterol, put thyroxine on the banned list, test for blood doping and cobalt.

  • Excellent job Ray. Keep up the good work.

  • Dinny Phipps is totally clued up about the importance of getting the testing labs up to speed. This problem will definitely be addressed in the coming months.

    • Ben van den Brink

      I tend to think, that the outcomes from the tests are bad. Bad enough to hinder the tracks and the racing boards.

      If you are the reporter of bad news, enough people like to pushes that down on the carpet.

      Dont kill the messenger.

  • Fast Filly

    Happens all the time at every track..when you run trials and the finals are two weeks later and the tests still haven’t came back, they go on and run and then find out later that two or more have positive tests from the trails…those horses should not have been allowed to run back and their places filled with alternates…check it out…not just Kentucky lab. and if the Racing commision International would get their site up on postitve tests that has been down for the whole year, it would sure get things moving faster.

  • Tinky

    Terrific original reporting, Ray.

  • Andy in the desert

    This leaves open the potential for a pandora’s box of litigation against LCG by the horsemen:
    “Breeders awards were being held up and some Indiana horsemen, unaware
    they may have drug positives for therapeutic medications given too close
    to a race, fell victim to getting multiple violations because of LGC’s
    failure to meet its own deadlines.”
    Great work Ray!

  • Fairrace14

    Interesting enough an overwhelming number of the results from this lab are positive. Several positives have ordered splits which are NEGATIVE also results are coming back positive for substances that have never been administered…. Sample Chain of Custody errors, Assay problems etc…This is crap– disqualifying good horses and ruining trainers careers with erroneous suspensions. Lawsuits coming! Sadly, another bad mark on Indianas Racing Program

  • Skvescovo

    I have no doubt that Rick Sams is the most esteemed Individual with respect to Equine Drug Testing…it is sad to hear of these delays. I’m sure he is requiring the most intense testing available.
    Why was The Labs response published?
    I understand they won contracts that had been served by other labs and they immediately began to detect a very number of positives….

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