There are some lingering questions in the wake of the revelation earlier this week that Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Masochistic had trace amounts of the anabolic steroid stanozolol in a post-race blood sample. Trainer Ron Ellis admitted in published reports he was aware there was a chance the 6-year-old gelding could test positive, having been told out-of-competition samples leading up to the race showed the presence of the drug, which he said was given “therapeutically” outside of the 60-day guideline recommended by the California Horse Racing Board.
Question One: Why did Ellis run the horse, when, by his own admission, there was a 10 percent chance the stanozolol would trigger a positive test?
Question Two: Why did Ellis have Masochistic put on the CHRB's veterinarian's list for medication for 60 days twice since May 2016 when the horse was neither sick nor injured?
Question Three: Why is a positive test measured in picograms (one trillionth of a gram) considered a violation?
Question Four: Why were Breeders' Cup officials not told by the California Horse Racing Board that out-of-competition testing indicated Masochistic had stanozolol in his system just over a week before his race?
Question Five: Why are anabolic steroids still permitted to be used for training Thoroughbreds in the United States? Wasn't this problem resolved in 2008 after a number of prominent owners, trainers and racing officials were brought before Congress to testify at a House subcommittee hearing entitled “Breeding, Drugs and Breakdowns: The State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse”?
Answer to the first question is easy. Ellis, in search of his first Breeders' Cup victory, rolled the dice, hoping the drug would completely clear out of Masochistic's system by the Nov. 5 Sprint. Samantha Siegel, who co-owns Masochistic with Los Pollos Hermanos Racing, said this on Twitter about the decision whether or not to run: “I left it up to Ron which was sadly a mistake. Personally I was shocked that we weren't automatically scratched.”
Question Two: Why did Ellis have a veterinarian give an anabolic steroid to a horse that wasn't sick, injured or coming off surgery? That's an easy one, too: because he could. “It was done therapeutically, because he's a small horse and we've had trouble keeping weight on him,” Ellis told Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman.
This might be a good place to remind readers that anabolic steroids are considered a performance-enhancing drug in virtually all human sports and in most horse racing jurisdictions around the world.
The regulation California has had in place for the last three years allows trainers to routinely administer steroids, put the horse on the vet's list for 60 days and train up to a race (prior to that it could be given 30 days out, as was the case when the Breeders' Cup was run at Santa Anita Park in 2013). It is a system rife for abuse and Ellis is far from being the only trainer to take advantage of the California Horse Racing Board's flaccid rule.
Question Three: Why is a horse disqualified and a trainer eligible for a fine and suspension when the positive test is measured in picograms? This one's a little more complicated. The California Horse Racing Board does not authorize any level of stanozolol in a horse on race day. Its authorization was suspended in California Dec. 26, 2013. When CHRB adopted the National Uniform Medication Program the following year, stanozolol was not among the approved therapeutic drugs for which a testing threshold was established. Any detection level of the drug is a violation.
Unlike stanozolol, other anabolic steroids – boldenone, nandrolone and testosterone – can be naturally occurring and are regulated with accompanying threshold levels for testing.
Question Four: The fact the California Horse Racing Board could not inform the Breeders' Cup of an out-of-competition finding is the ultimate catch-22. Masochistic was tested out of competition because of a participation agreement in a Breeders' Cup challenge race, the Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar. The out-of-competition testing program was paid for by the Breeders' Cup, but there is a California Horse Racing Board Rule, 1842, dealing with horses placed on the vet's list for medication, that reads: “Any such report is confidential and its content shall not be disclosed except in a proceeding before the stewards or the Board, or in exercise of the Board's jurisdiction.”
In addition, California's Veterinary Practice Act protects patient-veterinary confidentiality. So the regulatory board could not communicate to Breeders' Cup the fact a horse tested positive out of competition for a drug that is only prohibited on race day.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave!
For the record, here is what the California Horse Racing Board says about out-of-competition testing in its annual report: “OOCT, conducted throughout the year, is critical for compliance in human sports testing and is necessary to detect certain prohibited drugs. OOCT targets blood-doping agents, anabolic steroids, beta-2 agonists, and other biopharmaceutical agents. The OOCT program monitors compliance with anabolic steroid reporting procedures and for surveillance of other drugs of interest. The CHRB and Maddy Lab expanded the program in FY 2014-15 to include equine hair analysis, an alternative testing matrix to expand the drug-detection window.”
Finally, Question Five, why does California (among other states) permit anabolic steroids to be given to healthy horses?
This is a tough one. It's true, there was a California Horse Racing Board press release dated July 19, 2008, saying “BOARD ACTS TO BAN STEROIDS IN RACING,” but it was kind of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge ban. In truth, California and most other states have simply regulated the use of anabolic steroids, not banned them.
The press release from California came just a month after several racing industry leaders were chastised by members of Congress during a hearing on Capitol Hill to get the sport's house in order on medication. This came in the wake of an ugly 2008 Triple Crown when the filly Eight Belles broke both front legs and died just past the finish line of the Kentucky Derby. Rick Dutrow, trainer of Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, candidly admitted giving Winstrol (stanozolol) to all of his horses on a routine basis. The combination of those two events – though unrelated – shined a bright light on horse racing and drugs.
The American public had just endured baseball's steroids era, when some of the game's most treasured records were broken by cheaters pumped up on drugs. The Olympics Games were becoming a farce because of performance enhancing substances like stanozolol and blood-doping agents that mostly went undetected in testing.
You might have thought horse racing regulators had seen the light and the damage done to the credibility of those sports. They didn't.
The California Horse Racing Board, in particular, has been dominated by horse owners or individuals who listen to trainers on medication issues. Yes, the inmates have a hand in running the asylum. The board had several opportunities to toughen anabolic steroids regulations and failed to do so.
The California Horse Racing Board could have adopted model rules of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI), approved in 2013, that banned stanozolol and kept horses on a vet's list for anabolic steroid treatment until they tested clean. It didn't.
Model rules recently approved by the RCI would put horses treated with anabolic steroids on the vet's list for a minimum of six months and also require they be prescribed for actual medical reasons. It is hoped that rule will be adopted by every racing state.
That's still short of where most of the racing world is. In Hong Kong, which may have the strictest drug rules in racing, stanozolol has never been permitted, according to Dr. Terence Wan, chief racing chemist for the Hong Kong Jockey Club. In 2015, the British Horseracing Authority put in place a “zero tolerance” policy that bans administration of anabolic steroids in Thoroughbreds from birth until retirement. Australian racing authorities enacted a similar ban in 2014.
California Horse Racing Board stewards will conduct a hearing on Dec. 30, when it is likely Masochistic will officially be disqualified. Breeders' Cup officials excluded Masochistic's owners when the $1.5 million purse for the Sprint was distributed.
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