Report on Drug Testing Should Be Sobering Wake Up Call

by | 10.16.2014 | 11:10am


That's how James Gagliano, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club, described the status quo for drug testing in American horse racing. Gagliano and others from The Jockey Club, along with a handful of reporters, had just been given a briefing on a report called “Raising the Standard of Testing and Enforcement,” prepared by Dan Singer, a senior partner and director of the media and entertainment division of McKinsey and Company consultants.

“This will define our activities over the next year,” added Gagliano, a reference to The Jockey Club's recently stated commitment to support federal legislation that would establish a national, non-governmental agency like the United States Anti-Doping Agency  (USADA) to oversee medication and drug testing policy for racing in the United States.

The Jockey Club-commissioned report was an eye-opening reflection of North American racing's patchwork state-by-state regulatory system. While there has been progress in the area of uniform medication rules across state lines, McKinsey's research shows that testing and enforcement variances from one racing jurisdiction to another can render those uniform rules meaningless.

As Natalie Voss pointed out in a Paulick Report article earlier this year, some states are using the latest drug-screening technology while others rely on outdated testing methods and equipment. Worse, as Singer's report demonstrated, dollars invested in testing and enforcement vary wildly from one state to another, from a low of $55 per sample to a high of $230. In drug testing as in life, you get what you pay for.

Predictably, some states are better than others at detecting medication violators. They vary from a high detection rate of 74 per 10,000 samples in one state to a low of one per 10,000 in another. The median among the 19 states McKinsey researched was 18 violations per 10,000. And it's not just a matter of using labs that have accreditation from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. If a state uses an accredited lab but does not contract with that lab to use the latest technology or screen for more than a handful of drugs (i.e., doing it “on the cheap”), it's going to be a waste of time and money.

American racing is not keeping up with other racing countries or other sports in out-of-competition testing. On average 1 percent of samples collected are taken out of competition in the U.S. By comparison, 10 percent of samples in French racing, 11 percent in Hong Kong and 21 percent in Victoria, Australia, are taken out of competition and tested. Out-of-competition testing has become the standard for human sports. It allows testing labs to detect performance-enhancing substances that may have left the system by the day of competition and can serve as a deterrent to cheating.

It comes down to this: American racing either has a drug problem or it doesn't.

The work done by Singer and his McKinsey associates suggests the door is open for cheating because not enough resources are being used in many states (or are not being used in the most effective way), either because the money isn't there to spend, its regulators are not informed enough to select labs intelligently, or they simply don't care.

We can fool ourselves into believing we don't have a problem with enforcing the medication rules we have today. That's what Major League Baseball did during the steroids era and what track and field did during America's love affair with people like disgraced Olympian Marion Jones. Or we can get serious, take a sober look at this report, and say, “The current system is broken.”

  • Ben van den Brink

    Everything on the cheap, so the National HBPA can sream, ther,s nothing wrong.

  • Hamish

    Yes, system is broken and it has been for some time now. TJC and other advocates for a better mousetrap have made compelling arguments for horse racing regulatory and drug testing reform, and this latest report is in your face proof of what we must be address. Problems identified, solutions proffered, now let’s just get it done. It only makes good sense.

    • WelbourneStud

      It is time for some serious action. The Jockey Club has commissioned enough studies to justify getting USADA involved and eliminating all raceday medications. It’s time to effectuate substantive change. If the JC wants some help, I and likely other members of WHOA offer their grass roots assistance.

      • togahombre

        their not calling on usada involvement, their looking to form their own agency based on usada , after that it’s all assumptions

        • Hamish

          Had not heard that. So Travis Tygart and USADA are only involved to the extent that the model and systems they employ will be copied by TJC’s new agency?

          • Ben van den Brink

            You just can not leave it up to the sport, cleaning up the mess.

            The butcher is qualifiing it,s own meath.

          • Jay Stone

            There is currently in place no group or individual capable of unifying and regulating this industry. They are all self serving, impotent groups with their own selfish agendas. The model would be someone like Jeff Gural, meadowlands owner.

          • Jay, Unfortunately Jeff Gural is one of a kind in horse racing, but the others fit your description perfectly.

          • togahombre

            it’s right in gagliano’s staement

          • Hamish

            I see, from TDN: In looking to the future, Jockey Club officials have met with representatives of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) on multiple occasions and “they are willing to assist the racing industry in applying their expertise to our regulation,” Gagliano said. Seems the operative word in this quote is “applying,” like applying USADA’s work by engaging the organization as our independent third party drug czar, or applying USADA’s experience as merely an educational assist to help us improve our current system. Two very different approaches.

          • togahombre

            2nd paragraph of the above article

          • Hamish

            Establish an agency “Like” the USADA, meaning it could specifically be USADA, or a close replica that looks like USADA. The more quotes and remarks I read from the conference call Tuesday, the more it seems that TJC will keep both scenarios in play to see which approach may gain the most momentum.

          • betterthannothing

            Sadly, I see more toothless recommendations coming since it now appears that the possibility of USADA being hired is quickly going up in smoke as toxic horsemen “leaders” lay land mines in the path of positive change. Authority will continue to come only from delinquent state racing commissions. Bravo!

          • Hamish

            The feds still have the ball in their court via IHA of 1978. USADA makes sense for us, TJC has acknowledged this as have many astute and vested horse industry participants. What the structure looks like and what the requirements are for federal reporting may be causing the delay, and yes, perhaps the self interested horse organizations as well.

        • Ben van den Brink

          The fed,s should regulate the sport and than the USADA for checking it out.

  • Lynn

    Limited Resources: There is NOT enough money for post race testing to fully meet all demands. Currently the majority what resources are available are spent on qualitative and quantitative analysis (detection, identification, & measuring) to very tiny levels of a picogram (one trillionth of one gram, that’s 0.000,000,000,001 of a single gram) of common everyday therapeutic (heal & maintain health) treatments. When the available resources should be aimed at things like Erythropoietin, also known as EPO, a glycoprotein hormone that controls erythropoiesis (the production of red blood cells), or “Frog Juice” which is Dermorphin a hepta-peptide first isolated from the skin of South American frogs, Dermorphin is about 30–40 times more potent than morphine.

    • Al the K

      Total purses paid in 2013 was $1.12 billion+, according to The Blood-Horse. Total number of race days/cards in 2013 was 5143; assuming an average of 9 races per card, that’s about 45,000 races. Average purse is then about $22,000: those million dollar purses really pump up the average.

      Now calculate a figure of what’s being paid for testing today. With the cost range given above, let’s use a current average of $100 per test. Now not every state does this, but assume the first 3 finishers and one other is always tested. So that’s 45,000 x 4 x 100 = $18 million currently being spent for testing.

      So if we want more complete testing that costs $230 each, plus add in the 10% or so
      out-of-competition tests for starters also, that would be 45,000 x 5 x 230 = about $52 million. So the difference/shortfall is about $32 million.

      Let’s split that cost between purses and total handle ($10.87 billion according to The Blood-Horse). $16 million is a 1-1/2%.charge against purses. Take it as “pay for your own test”, an entry fee, whatever. Against handle/bettors, another .0015% takeout occurs. Either figure won’t kill anybody but the greediest folks. The million dollar purses pay the same proportion as the little ones. There is also a savings possible with all tests done under one roof. So yes, USADA.

      • Lynn

        “So if we want more complete testing that costs $230 each”

        More likely to be $1,000 for each post race test if you want better qualitative and quantitative analysis done on the test samples.

        Limited Resources Need To Be Prioritized.

        For Example: The RMTC’s 26 Controlled Therapeutic Medication Rules that have been adopted by many states causes a lot of resources to be spent looking at tiny residual levels of therapeutic medications; medications defined as therapeutic (heal & maintain health) should not be high on the priority list as compared to drugs like Etorphine aka Elephant Juice.

        Etorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid possessing an analgesic potency approximately 1,000–3,000 times that of morphine.

        What is the most important things to be on the lookout for, aspirin or morphine?

        • Ben van den Brink

          Etorphine overhere is standing in the Opium list, any vet that has the stuff, will loose his job for live and some more penalties. The stuff is in use for elephants.

          • Lynn

            “Etorphine over here”

            In 2005 Illinois Racing Commission re licensed Agostino Siciliano, who had been given a lifetime suspension in 1987 after urine tests on his horses showed 21 positives for Etorphine, or elephant juice.

            The New York State Racing and Wagering Board acknowledged it mistakenly disqualified the French horse Lashkari for illegal drug use in the 1985 Breeders` Cup Turf and reinstated both his purse and the license of trainer Alain de Royer Dupre. The board had banned Dupre for life and reclaimed Lashkari`s $140,000 purse after the board`s Drug Testing and Research Program reported traces of Etorphine in the horse`s post race urine sample. In small doses, Etorphine is a powerful stimulant. The reversal apparently was prompted by a civil suit filed by Dupre and reports from two independent laboratories that conducted negative analyses of the urine sample

        • Janet delcastillo

          Lynn it is obvious that there should be thresholds for all of the drugs being tested. It seems to me the there has been great over reaction for a trillionth of a gram or billionth etc that really makes no difference to the performance. On the other hand, so many “therapeutic” drugs that are legal are so abused! Reading the plethora of meds given to a horse a day or two before race day or on race day can mask many issues. Thats why making a big deal about race day meds really doesn’t address the many drugs given going into the race. Various meds are cumulative and the mix of anti inflamatories and legal joint injections etc can stack the over all effect and mask problems until catastrophic breakdown. A good way to stop some of this is to educate the owners to what they are paying for…those treatments cost money and owners should wonder if horses need a thousand dollars worth of vet fees a month in order to run. Where is common sense???

          • betterthannothing

            Very well said Janet. Thank you. Focusing on race day med(s) is a farce, some say a necessary first step in the right direction while fighting against a barrage of toxic “horsemen” and shameless profiteers. Racing needs shock therapy at this point. Horses (and riders) need serious protection against the misuse and abuse of drugs and man-made endangerment. Horses should simply be fit and healthy enough to train and race off-drugs for two, three or even better 4 weeks to post with exceptions for small, peripheral issues.

  • HogHater

    So if the drug testing is being done “on the cheap” , it would make sense that not only are drugs not being identified, but that also errors are being made on the tests performed due to poor equipment and under-qualified personnel.
    Do you blame any accused trainer for “lawyering-up”?
    Trainers are being punished over these tests, reputations are being ruined, huge financial damages are being incurred and careers are jeopardized.

    • betterthannothing

      Lawlessness and racino purses have attracted mediocrity and debauchery, and unfortunately good guys and horses always pay the highest price.

      • biggar

        What debauchery have you observed that was caused by the quality of drug testing or racino purses?

    • You are very entertaining. The cops in Ferguson, MO could use you to write their PR.

  • betterthannothing

    Choosing to clean itself up with tough, uniform, enforced rules and regulations, putting equine welfare and safety, transparency, integrity and quality first including by hiring USADA, are the only ways out of the deep hole racing has been digging for decades.

  • cal gal

    its a joke! some states ie Oklahoma don’t even put out what bad tests they have, this should be mandatory also….Lasix only race day , IMO only ones winning are lawyers!!! we need to microchip horses, and do a blood analysis before, hand, if they have anything but Lasix, they are dq’d….trainers are way too smart to not get caught, there is a new drug always, so no one knows what to test for, its a joke out there….

  • Gate To Wire

    The testing is bad?? I’m just shocked.
    Phil Hanrahan & the National HPBA always said that 99.2% clean tests = no drug problem.
    Look at the results when races are contested in 72hr security and it will be very clear that testing does very little.

    • Janet delcastillo

      Remember Lance Armstrong… how long did it take to find the truth???

  • Richard C

    USADA would bring an immediate legitimacy – which may frighten a certain segment of industry insiders – and cease the ridiculous debate that often degenerates into a scene from the Keystone Cops.

  • elliott ness

    they should all hang their wealthy heads in shame

    • betterthannothing

      They have no shame, no pity, no b a l l s.

  • togahombre

    the feds getting involved is a fantasy that gets played over and over, the more folks believe this will happen , the more cruel it seems, you bring racings needs to washington and you’ll find yourself in the shadow of some pretty big trees, and alot of them too, you want to deal with govt, then start with the individual states where they already have a foothold, it’s hard work, that alone is enough to doom it

    • Hamish

      Not really Togaman. The feds are very, very interested in the outcome of our proclaimed reform progress. They in fact control our industry’s destiny via the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978, so don’t sell them short as they are paying rather close attention to this debate. If interstate commerce is corrupted or compromised as a result of drugged horses or manipulated races, the federal government will engage, and then who knows what from there. A federal “deal” sanctioning national horse racing laws and regulatory process would be in our industry’s best interest.

      • togahombre

        Just by the nature of bureaucratic instincts, the chances of nothing changing are very good, this situation is nothing new, and yet, nothings happened, the industry has to take care of itself, this is the view of a pragmatist, it’ll be a difficult, dirty and mostly thankless job, if you want the results you have to put in the time and make the sacrifices, it wont be for the smooth talkers or faint of heart, you’ll need work dogs with sharp teeth and thick skin, got any of those?

        • betterthannothing

          For those who want to face fair competition and improve the breed with genuine race records, a quicker solution might be to create a new racing league and leave that toxic mess behind.

          • togahombre

            that’s pretty funny, i’ll keep that in mind when i blow out the candles on my cake this year

    • Vudu

      Racing is a states rights issue?

  • UKBlue

    Truth that no one will talk about: the vast majority of owners & trainers do not want a drug policy more or less testing. As a very famous trainer told me once, with owners spending millions of dollars on horses or any money at all not counting training & vet bills, they want results. Not having a drug policy is killing the ability of the industry to market the horse business because people do not trust the business. If a drug policy & testing has a chance of working, it has to have cross the board national industry standards & controlled by a national entity ie The Jockey Club, NTRA or a new entity all together. A huge problem, states Do NOT want to give up control & it’s a huge political issue. An even bigger problem, top trainers using chemist to create synthetic drugs that can not be detected.

    • gus stewart

      bingo,bingo bingo go into a chrb meeeting and tell them that and they will duck for cover!

    • Jay Stone

      Correct analysis as a new governing body must take over and states are not willing to cede control.

      • mdwalk5312

        States will not give up control and there is no way to make them.

        • Lynn

          The Jockey Club may want to run things, but they can’t.
          The Jockey Club is just a Club. This Club has NO power (other than registering a foal) or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience on any state; The Jockey Club also does NOT have authority over any State Racing Commission.
          The Jockey Club in the United States is a Breed Registry.
          Paying the fees to register a foal with The Jockey Club does Not make you a Member of The Jockey Club either. Those that pay fees to this Club vastly outnumber those that are members of this Club; however the majority of the paying customers have little say in what The Jockey Club does.
          To be a Member of The Jockey Club, One needs to be invited.

          It may be a safe bet that a lot of The Jockey Club’s non member paying
          customers, disagree with a number of things with The Jockey Club.

    • I disagree.

    • betterthannothing

      Race horses need an authority which would exclusively protect their welfare and safety which would also eliminate many problems that hurt the reputation and business of racing.

  • Sobering Wake Up Call #163.

    • Peyton

      I think you are off by a power of 10. And I don’t mean 16.3 wake up calls. Don’t it just make you apathetic?

      • Not one bit apathetic. At all. The voices in the sport are The Indicted. The Apathetic. And The Vanquished.
        They will find out. Because they have been found out.

  • swiss305

    Please correct me if I am wrong/comment. A horse that is drugged to the max and wins, then much later tests dirty, will lose the prize money for the owner but the money bet on the winning horse is paid and gone. People could have made a bundle, could be for the owner or trainer or both, that makes the prize money look like chump change. Is there any way to test the horses before the race, either with urine or saliva? Maybe a test could be developed. If such a test were available, would the tracks still oppose it because the fields might be suddenly severely reduced? Anyone?

    • Peyton

      You are not wrong. However, even pre race testing if it were possible given the time constraints would likely not stop the cheating either. UNLESS anyone that was caught was sent to a jail cell. The punishments are not severe enough to deter the criminals. By the way, there are some rules in place that forbid such profiteering by insiders, but they are just a joke. I have never heard of them being enforced. Vets, trainers, owners, jockeys, and race track employees bet on horses a lot.

      • betterthannothing

        I believe in horse abuse and cheating prevention at ground zero, first and foremost. This could be achieved by putting all competitive horses under 24/7 security and surveillance weeks before competition and other equine welfare, safety and integrity measures such as comprehensive substance control and accountability, transparent equine health records, etc…

        • Janet delcastillo

          You have no idea how sneaky people can be…even with surveillance (which would be impossible and cost prohibitive anyway). I remember a trainer bragging to me that he could have a needle hidden in his sleeve and he would inject the horse while walking up to the paddock. He was a quarter horse trainer in Pompono Park and that track was shut down with the problems of drugging the horses! Incredible! Maybe we should be like France where I was told that a trainer would go to jail if caught! That might make the cheaters think!

          • betterthannothing

            Sobering, isn’t! Abusers and cheaters need to be exposed, names and all and kept away from horses and racing. If that incident happened in Pompano Park, years ago that track got into big trouble due to the gross abuse of harness horses.

            CCTV is widely used inside/outside businesses, parking lots, public places, etc and those cams help identify and catch many criminals much faster. Why not invest in them and use them wherever competitive horses are, especially because legal and illegal drugs, gambling and fatal accidents are involved. Such investment would be worth it for so many reasons.

            I agree that severe punishments and jail time must be a big part of the whole solution. One quick appeal option against big fines and suspensions like with the BHA and that’s it.

    • Vudu

      Indeed. The prize money comes back, but the record – does it change in the PPs?
      People who wagered – won & lost. That cannot be set aright & stand as cheated.

      Racing’s reputation is at stake.
      Mistakes here & there are one thing, but are they really just mistakes that skirted a race day.

      Racing, with few exceptions appears to becoming a front for casinos.
      Might as well play old races on a video machine.

      Does that concern anyone with a racino? It seems to me that quite a few become casinos first – and the nod to horse racing is just acknowledgement to a cover operation that got their foot in the door.

    • Carbon testing does this for milkshaking.

  • Fast Filly

    The Racing Commision International hasn’t been any help with thier site being down all year. They want evryone to contribute to them to keep them going, but it’s the public that suffers from them not having any computor geeks that can fix their site..there are alot of people that depended on that site to see what medications and who got fined and who got set down..They are hurting the industry by not having that site up.’
    And if labs can’t the results back within two weeks, they should have to the tests for FREE. When trials and finals are run and the results from trials aren’t back in two weeks the finals run and then the horses are disqualified because they had bad tests in the trials, that is cheating the eleventh place finisher from winning the big money..check it out,,,happens all the time.

  • Lou Baranello

    Racing Commissions, as gutless as they are , do face funding problems.

  • Conni

    I don’t understand why the JC did not list the state names. If it is truly information legally taken, there can be no repercussions. I for one would love to know where my state ranks on the list. How can anyone put pressure on the commissions without the proper knowledge.

  • Creme De La Fete

    Ya think it’s bad now, just wait until the sh**storm hits in NY when they break the news after the Breeders Cup.

  • Creme De La Fete

    Grade 1 trainers & GR1 horses positives. Very very bad. Hopefully this reveal gets game going in right direction. Trying to keep lid on it until BC.

    • Hamish

      Who is the “they” that isn’t breaking the news, and why would something like this be held until after a date certain?

      • Creme De La Fete

        The BC is the sport’s premier event. The last thing the industry wants is to be answering questions about the rampant use of illegal drugs on national television.

        There are multiple names, all with horses racing in NY. Most are household names, one much less so. One of the household names is considered beyond reproach by the general public and runs only in the most prominent events. Have heard but cant confirm his positive is for at least one Class 1 substance, the kind that could or should get you banned for life. That is why they want to keep a lid on it.

        • Hamish

          If what you are hearing is indeed true, shame on those that violated the rules and even worse shame to those that don’t know how to fulfill their regulatory responsibility and properly process the reality of the alleged matters. In the end, the truth always come out and prevails, so we’ll have to wait and see.

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