View From The Eighth Pole: Do Test Barn Thefts Expose Louisiana Lab Deficiency?

by | 02.07.2019 | 10:16am

My phone lit up Wednesday morning after the Paulick Report published an article about the theft of post-race urine and blood samples from a locked freezer inside the test barn at Louisiana Downs. The break-in was discovered Jan. 12, the day the Bossier City, La., track began the second week of its 2019 Quarter Horse meet.

Several callers said this wasn't the only theft of drug testing samples from a Louisiana racetrack. A second burglary is said to have occurred at Evangeline Downs, somewhere between the time the Opelousas, La., track's Quarter Horse meet ended on Dec. 18 and a break-in was noticed on Jan. 21. The stable area had been vacated after the meet ended.

Charles Gardiner III, executive director of the Louisiana State Racing Commission, confirmed the Louisiana Downs break-in but would not comment on Evangeline Downs. Gardiner said the samples stolen from Louisiana Downs were split samples from the first week of the meeting. He said none of the primary samples, which had already been sent to the state's official testing laboratory in Baton Rouge, were affected. Furthermore, Gardiner asserted, none of the samples tested from the opening week of the Louisiana Downs Quarter Horse meet came up positive for any prohibited substances.

That's not the case with the Evangeline Downs samples, sources said. The break-in was discovered only after positive tests were reported from that meet and officials went to Evangeline Downs to retrieve the split samples to send them to a referee laboratory for confirmatory testing.

If true, the motive for the Evangeline Downs theft seems pretty clear: someone didn't want there to be a split sample from a horse that tested positive for a prohibited substance. But why would anyone go to the trouble and take the risk of breaking the locks on a chain link fence and freezer to steal split samples from Louisiana Downs when the corresponding primary samples did not detect any illegal drugs?

The theory shared with me by several callers is that whoever stole the split samples at Louisiana Downs expected to have a positive test called on them from the primary sample. That makes sense, right?

It's no secret that among Quarter Horse trainers trying to get an edge, the drug of choice is clenbuterol. It's an effective bronchodilator that also has steroidal effects in horses.

Since the Food and Drug Administration's approval in 1998 of clenbuterol – specifically Ventipulmin syrup – for use in horses, state regulators have grappled with when the drug can be given. Its withdrawal time has been pushed further and further back from race-day, and some states have moved to effectively ban its use entirely. Hair testing is conducted in some jurisdictions to determine any presence of clenbuterol.

These Quarter Horse test barn capers come at a time when some Thoroughbred owners and trainers in Louisiana have privately expressed concern that clenbuterol use is rampant on the backstretch and that the state's official testing laboratory  – the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine Analytical Systems Laboratory in Baton Rouge – is not detecting the drug. To date, the laboratory has not been accredited by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, making Louisiana racing an outlier in that regard.

Backstretch rumors are pervasive, especially when some trainers are winning at an improbable rate. But the rumors about clenbuterol use in Louisiana have been persistent over the past two racing seasons at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and are accompanied by anecdotal evidence suggesting some trainers are blatantly flaunting withdrawal times for the drug.

Police are investigating the break-ins at the two Louisiana racetracks. The question remains if anyone will investigate whether the state's testing laboratory is effectively doing its job.

That's my view from the eighth pole.

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