The unregulated use of anabolic steroids in North American racing quickly came to an end in 2009, one year after trainer Rick Dutrow — in interviews discussing Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown's steroid regimen — exposed, for many people, the fact that, at that time, few racing states prohibited their use.
But are steroids and other muscle builders really gone?
Steroid regulations or bans went into place in 2009, extremely sensitive testing has been developed, and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium studies have communicated withdrawal times ranging from 41 to 162 days (depending on the specific steroid) for veterinarians to use as guidelines for when they felt there is a therapeutic need for horses to be treated with the muscle-building drug.
Drug screens are available for both muscle builders, with out-of-competition testing the most effective way to detect them.
The product that has reportedly found its way to the United States is Nitrotain, sold by Nature Vet, an Australian company which is now part of CEVA Sante Animale.
On the company's website, Nitrotain is described as a “vet only product” that is “a potent, short acting oral anabolic steroid with very low potential for adverse side effects, and a short withdrawal time (providing liver and kidney functions are normal). Nitrotain, with extremely high anabolic activity and very low androgenic activity, is safe for fillies and mares, as well as geldings and yearlings.”
Saying the product has “rapid and predictable excretion” means it gets out of the system relatively fast for drug testing purposes, unlike other steroid preparations: testosterone, stanozolol, nandrolone, boldenone, and methandriol,
Does it work?
Well, some Australian body builders think it does. A trio of them were caught on camera breaking into an Australian stable, where they stole a tub of Nitrotain. Bodybuilders and other human athletes have been known to inject anabolic steroids designed for horses to help improve their performance. Rafael Palmeiro, a former Major League Baseball star who tested positive for steroids, was said to have used Winstrol.
Nitrotain contains Ethylestrenol.
Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, said regulators are aware of Nitrotain and have heard the same rumors about its use.
“We have notified investigators to look for it,” said Arthur, “and it is in our (testing) screen. All of our investigators have the information, what it looks like, and what to look for. We pride ourselves on paying attention to what's going on, not just in the United States but around the world.”
California is one of several states that conducts out-of-competition testing, but Nitrotain has yet to be detected.
“It would have to be smuggled into the country because it is contraband,” said Arthur. Trainers or veterinarians caught using the substance could face criminal charges, he added.
A second type of muscle builder substance being used by some trainers or vets, and one that has been detected in post-race testing on occasion, is Paylean, sold by Elanco, a division of pharma giant Eli Lilly and Co. Its ingredient is ractopamine.
Paylean, or “pig juice” was designed for pigs and its use is rumored to have been concentrated in the Quarter horse business. A number of positive tests for Paylean have been called in California and elsewhere.
According to the company website, the product “directs nutrients toward quality lean gain and away from fat deposition, resulting in an increase of high-value, lean cuts of meat in pork carcasses. With years of university and private research Paylean has been proven to: increase rate of weight gain; improve feed efficiency; increase carcass leanness.”
Bigger. Stronger. Illegal.
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