New Research Could Put Regulators On Trail Of Horsemen Using Synthetic Steroids

by | 12.14.2015 | 7:24pm

The fight against illegal drugs in horse racing may have gotten another boost on Monday, when the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council voted to approve funding for a new kind of drug test. The Council approved a proposal to spend a total of $195,474 over two years (if the first year's research proves successful) to develop an biochemical test for the equine sex-hormone binding globulin. This blood protein attaches itself to androgen and estrogen to help them move through the body of horses, people, and other vertebrates. Investigators are hoping that an ELISA test could be developed that would alert laboratories when there is an unusual amount of the protein binding to androgens, signaling that the horse's androgen levels have been artificially manipulated.

Steroids, like synthetic opioids, can be easily modified by manufacturers to have a slightly altered chemical structure that would allow them to escape detection — even by the most stringent drug testing program. Current testing techniques can find 38 different anabolic steroids for as long as 160 days after administration, but it's hard to know what else is out there.

“Really, if you think about Barry Bonds and that whole deal that baseball went through, these designer drugs are not going to be picked up by the testing that we do now,” said Dr. Jerry Yon, chairman of the Council, before the proposal went to a votes. “You will not know that they are being used and there are a number of them out there in human sport. This would be a step to get us ahead of the curve.”

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has received intelligence that synthetic anabolic steroids are being used by some trainers, although regulators aren't sure whether this is true, or how far-reaching the problem could be.

“I don't know how much of it is perception, how much of it is sour grapes, and how much of it is reality,” said Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the Kentucky commission. “We're not going in with a pre-determined agenda. We're going in saying, ‘Is there a problem?' and this test should help us answer that question.”

Although a finding of elevated levels of globulin would not by itself constitute a drug violation, it would give laboratories both a surveillance tool and a starting point to collaborate further with human practitioners to track down the variety of synthetic steroids used in a particular case. Once a steroid is identified by a process like this, the offender could be charged with its use.

The Research Advisory Working Group for the project is comprised of a combination of veterinarians and researchers at the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and independent practitioners; it includes Drs. Nancy Cox, Michael Kilgore, Andy Roberts, Mary Scollay, Johnny Mac Smith, and Ed Squires.

Also on the agenda for Monday's meeting was a unanimous vote for Dr. James MacLeod, professor of veterinary science at the Gluck Equine Research to submit a full proposal to continue research into articular cartilage stem cells. Stem cells have been in the news over the past few years as useful tools in regenerative therapy for soft tissue injuries, and MacLeod and his team hope to learn more about how and why stem cells turn into cartilage cells, and whether further understanding about this process could be used to help horses heal from cartilage damage.

The council also approved a request from MacLeod to pay for several freezers to store an increasing number of tissue samples MacLeod and fellow researchers are studying from deceased horses to learn more about bone density.

  • shakeyoudown

    “I don’t know how much of it is perception, how much of it is sour grapes, and how much of it is reality,” said Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the Kentucky commission. “We’re not going in with a pre-determined agenda. We’re going in saying, ‘Is there a problem?’ and this test should help us answer that question.”
    New alert Mary, If a trainer has a win percentage over 40%, they are using!!!

    • kmunster2015

      You are absolutely correct. Anything in sports outside the historical norm must be questioned. Woody Stephens and Charles Whittingham won about 22% life time, Now we have “super” trainers who win 28-35%. The racing euphemism “off the claim” high win percentage means ‘juicer>” Do you really think the new trainer is so good and the other trainer is so incompetent? As a physician and fan since early 1980s I know some agent is running through the horses’ arteries , veins tendons and muscles to give increased speed or stamina.
      Another observation if modern day training is a SKILL how come Hall of Fame trainers Zito,McCanally, Lukas and Van Berg cannot win races anymore. MY guess is that they are running “honest’ . As a bettor, just wager on Ness, Broberg, Preciado,Amoss, etc ‘off the claim” and go to the window 30-50% of the time. Take care. Kevin M> M.D.

      • bruce alexander

        You and everyone else betting horses knows this .The regulators need a little more money and want to catch abusers through the test barn only. You and Barry Irwin are correct the cheating is obvious and the methods are unsuccessful. The tracks have the right to unwarranted search ,monitoring or denial of stalls or entries and use none of these methods

      • David

        I’m sure many tracks are “scared” to go after the aforementioned high percentage trainers because they run lots of horses and they are “scared” that if they lose these trainers they won’t have a enough horses to fill their races. The funny thing is the same horses would still be there but just with different trainers. It is time to get serious about this because it is laughable that some of the “legends” now and of the past win/won at a rate that is but a fraction of the win rate of the current super trainers. We now have leading trainers who haven’t been training but for a few years and were a super trainer from day 1 one. What possibly could they have learned so quickly that makes them much, much better than some quality life long training legends who had nice horses and what possibly is it they do that allows them to claim a horse off a “solid” trainer and 3 weeks later have such a horse run its career best race and step up in class almost overnight? While I would like to think it is just their great training and feed that does it the fact of the matter is that isn’t reality (especially in a few short weeks).

        • kmunster2015

          Dear David; You again make an excellent point. The “super’ trainers at many tracks have such a large percentage of the horses that fill entires so they unfairly have a lot of power with the racing secretary and track. Such quality trainers such as Barclay Tagg, Robert ribaudo ,Patrick Kelly in New York get so few horses to train while owners prefer the 25-30% trainer(win at all costs). It is really quite pitiful.

          As for betting I love when a “juicer’ claims a horse say at 25,000 and steps up to allowance NW! or 2. It is a sign of confidence and with the “fuel injection’ all systems go!!! Often the horse is not the favorite because he or she doesnt have the CLASS. I am from New york so i have learned since 1983 first Barrera,Ferriola,Dutrow, Jacobson, Rodriguez andothers in future years.

          Lastly, i am not a cyncal or disgruntled person I am a scientist at heart and love to observe and generate hypothesis. Horse racing is a beautiful sport I love the horses, silks green grass on a sunny day at Belmont or another track. There is a seemy dirty underbelly about racing however and it will always be present. Take care kevin M

          • Stephen States

            You do mean Oscar and not Laz Barrera, I’m guessing?

          • Bein

            Horse racing is a beautiful sport, with very strong appeal to the public. American Pharoah, California Chrome, Zenyatta, look at the emotion in their crowds! I hope that, sooner rather than later, people in the sport will take notice and quit chasing instant racing money, simulcast money, casino money and begin to run their venues focused on their own great product.

          • You hit the nail on the head, but those charged with the financial end of the industry do not believe it. In a previous generation, plenty of sportsmen and Hollywood entrepreneurs did believe it, but they have been replaced with operators whose only concern is the bottom line. They have no heart or soul, only calculators.

        • hype22redux

          when they get caught they lose that big barn …ask many trainers here in California the result they experience when they get caught …their barns shrink and someone rises to replace them…

        • Bein

          What the so-called super trainers learned quickly is to do what some owners want them to do. Use every means to win. That guarantees them a high number of horses in the barn, and usually good ones.

      • Fallow1

        Nah, even running honest, they should be winning more often.

  • hype22redux

    Yes and now the evidence of the sudden rise out here in CA of a certain trainer who regularily claims horses and improves their life long byers 30 points in a couple of weeks …he will remain nameless for the obvious reasons…but you are free to speculate…won a race at los al with the jockey holding him the entire race in an extremely fast time…

    • BeastBob

      What is the trainer name? I bet you don’t have a name because you just made that up.

      • hype22redux

        I have a name just like years ago when I called ted west and Harrington….this one I have before mentioned the name but now I will just keep it close because it is just to simple to identify the cheaters ..and If I can do it so shouldn’t the people who supposedly run this sport…but nice try …but it will come out soon and like the others before will not go away but his magic will resurface with someone else once caught you are no longer of service

        • BeastBob

          That’s a lot of hand wavering. Keep on pretending like you know something by making up lies.

          • hype22redux

            This site which is one of the last forum sites handling racing topics after the demise of DMTC is monitored by the powers that be ,and I can assure you because in the past they have contacted me individually about issues …so for me to name someone here is foolish ….in the past finding trainers like this was pretty straight forward ….very good trainers would lose a horse to one of these new trainers in less than 2 weeks improve that horse immensely….not just once but time after time…so those trainers are easily traceable and eventually ted west,mike Harrington,sanford Shulman jeff mullins and the like find a positive test and somehow lose that magic….you just have to look at the new trainer who emulates that same type of success …..some of these guys are good horsemen who just got caught this not my finding it is the finding of the CHRB…I just say there are somenew ones out there ..finding them is up to that same body CHRB

  • If these people are serious (and I for one do not think they are, sorry folks) about cleaning up the problem, the money earmarked for this stuff would be much better spent by hiring professional detectives to profile, investigate, arrest, prosecute and jail cheaters. It is not rocket science. Once any designer drugs are discovered and broken down in a lab, the scientists will know what to test for going forward. Spending money trying to find a needle in a haystack is not cost effective. Everybody knows where the illegal drugs are. They are on the backstretch or the vehicles or the homes of the perps. It all breaks down to a matter of will.

    • ben

      There is no will in catching them, they only send a firealarm out:
      Look we are able to detect it, within time.

      If every thing is done and they are able to detect it, than the language in the rules is not up to date.

    • kmunster2015

      I agree with you Barry. As a physician, the plethora of new drugs makes it very hard to get a positive . The article that Ray paulick had interviewing the Hong Kong lab director was very good showing that they have the best system in the world right now.

      In the United States, drug testing for horses is not a priority for the states many of which have budget deficits. To be honest i believe many just do a basic screen to save money. Did you ever notice some trainers are absolutely unbeatable in some states? Unfortunately that is part of modern handicapping. Either they have a vet in that state or the testing is inadequate and they can use pharmacology to their advantage.

      Lastly, I agree that detective and security cameras and guards are vital. Of course, the guard cannot be bought off. Look at the Kentucky derby they have cameras and no access i believe for 24 hours. That stops the malfeasance to a great degree. Take care Kevin M.

      • And how about the states that take piss and blood and never test them at all?

        • Bein

          How do you know this happens?

    • Fallow1

      Yep. Absolutely.

    • Bein

      Perfect, Barry Irwin. It’s about enforcement, not chasing the latest substance. Enforcement deters.

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