Last December, when the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association stripped three Pennsylvania stakes of their graded status (after the races had been run) because the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission failed to comply to drug-testing protocol established by the TOBA, I wrote that the Pennsylvania commission's incompetence was regulation at its worst. I didn't know then how bad it really was.
Philadelphia Park's Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby, previously designated as Grade 2 events, and the Masters Stakes at Presque Isle Downs, which was supposed to be a Grade 3, were the races that lost their graded ranking. It was an unprecedented and, some say, unfair decision by the TOBA, which instead of being criticized for the move should be applauded for its effort to clean up the sport.
The decision was made because the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, under chairman Corinne Sweeney and acting executive director Mike Dillon, failed to establish TCO2 testing for alkalizing agents, commonly referred to as milkshakes, which every other state with graded stakes was able to do in order to comply with the TOBA Graded Stakes Committee's drug testing protocol.
It's not as if testing for milkshakes came out of left field or the Pennsylvania commission had not been notified well in advance of the requirements and reminded of the potential consequences of not complying. Sweeney, Dillon and others at the commission chose to ignore them.
Incredibly, five months later, the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission still has not implemented a TCO2 testing program for Thoroughbreds.
Milkshakes, which can be administered by flushing a mix of baking soda, sugar and water into a horse's stomach by tubing through a nostril, are a performance enhancer because they help reduce lactic acid buildup that leads to fatigue in a horse. Believed to be rampant in some states despite rules that prohibited the practice, widespread testing for TCO2 levels in Thoroughbreds didn't begin until 2005. It has slowed the illegal practice down where testing is in place. But Pennsylvania is not one of those places.
As a result, one horse owner told me recently, you could literally trip over all the tubes on the backstretch of a Pennsylvania racetrack.
Questions about milkshakes came up this past week when Anthony Adamo, who served as racing manager and trainer for controversial, Eclipse Award-winning owner Michael Gill, was suspended April 15 for three months for an incident that occurred at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa., last Oct. 22. A stewards ruling suspended Adamo for possession of hypodermic needles and syringes and said Adamo had the “intent to administer an unnatural and unauthorized substance” to Lion's Pride, one of Gill's horses shipped in to race at Penn National that night.
The ruling did not say what the substance was, but Gill, in an interview with Matt Hegarty of Daily Racing Form, said it was baking soda found in the van that brought the horse from Gill's off-site training center to Penn National. Gill said it was on the van to mix into the water of Lion's Pride after the race. Lion's Pride was scratched by the stewards. A hearing on the matter wasn't conducted until March 23.
There's no way of knowing whether Lion's Pride had been given a milkshake before he arrived at Penn National that night. Pennsylvania did not test for milkshakes then, and does not test for them now.
Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report
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