‘Races Are Won In Training’: Arthur Expresses Frustration After California OOCT Measure Sent Back To Committee

by | 06.21.2018 | 7:20pm
Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director, CHRB

The California Horse Racing Board voted on Thursday to send a proposed rule governing out-of-competition drug testing back to committee. The Blood-Horse‘s Jeremy Balan, tweeting from the meeting, noted last-minute opposition to the measure from the Thoroughbred Owners of California, who voiced concerns about responsibility for OOCT positives, as well as the California Thoroughbred Trainers. The rule language would have brought the state into line with RMTC recommended guidelines, which are already in place in other jurisdictions. Balan wrote the discussion became extremely heated at times as Dr. Rick Arthur, CHRB equine medical director, accused horsemen of voicing objections strictly as a way to avoid implementing testing.

After the meeting, Arthur released the following statement to the media:

Horse racing tests for more drugs at lower levels than any other professional sport. Horse racing was a leader in sport drug testing for many years, but has fallen woefully behind as human sport anti-doping has leap-frogged us the last two or three decades. Out-of-Competition testing (OOCT) has been a major part of the advancement of human sport anti-doping strategies.

In reality, horse racing does not have a robust anti-doping program. It can be best described as a medication control program. Medication control is very important and necessary. We not only need to test for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) as is the focus in human sport testing, but for drugs that impact horse welfare and horse and jockey safety. Rightfully, we have paid a lot of attention to drugs that impact horse welfare and horse and jockey safety this last decade and are continuing to do so. Horse racing must also deal with performance hindering drugs that could be used to stop a horse from its best performance which is not generally considered a problem in human sport.

Nearly 60 percent of all anti-doping tests in human sport are OOCT. Why is OOCT so important? Humans sport testing does a very good job of detecting relatively short-acting, small molecule drugs, and so does horse racing. Everyone knows that. Everyone also knows when we are going to test the horses—right after the race. That is pretty easy to plan around if you are bent on cheating. Many of the most effective PEDs are gone well before race day when horses are tested but the performance enhancing effects are still present. The effects of many drugs can last well past the time the drug is still present, or present at detectable levels. Anabolic steroids, beta-2 agonists, and blood doping agents are good examples.

And this should be clear to everyone: Races are won in training. That is true in human sport; it is true in horse racing. Just as in human sport, we need to pay more attention to PEDs being used in training and we can only do that by OOCT.

California does more OOCT testing than other racing authorities in the US but it is still less than 15 percent of all the horses tested – and that is excluding TCO2 testing numbers. Heretofore our OOCT program has been more show than substance. Why? That is because we do not have regulations to prosecute violators. Yes, we can check that horses have prescriptions for drugs we find in OOCT and whether their veterinarians have properly reported those prescriptions, but those are all paperwork violations, which usually result in warnings.

We started OOCT testing the first year I became EMD at Cal Expo harness in 2007. We made clear we were focusing on blood doping agents, specifically EPO. Within a month a leading trainer and his veterinarian left Cal Expo for remarkable success back east. Was it is a coincidence the veterinarian was subsequently sanctioned for EPO related violations? I don't think so. We also identified clenbuterol and zilpaterol abuse with OOCT, anabolic steroid misuse, and even odd substances such as GW1516. Look it up.  

I was involved in developing the OOCT program we are discussing here today at the RMTC — of which TOC (Thoroughbred Owners of California)& CTT (California thoroughbred Trainers) are members. The OOCT program was approved unanimously at RMTC which makes the CTT's & TOC's opposition here today somewhat bewildering. This proposal protects their constituents from unscrupulous competitors trying to take an unfair advantage. The CTT & TOC should be this proposal's biggest supporters. Very simply, the OOCT program we are discussing is based on the WADA Prohibited Substances list, with generous, if anything overly generous, exceptions for a few drugs used in horse racing. What we are proposing is a real, recognizable anti-doping program. While structured differently, it is also consistent with international OOCT provisions for horse racing under International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) Article 6.

Here is the question for this Board and the leaders in this sport: Do you want a real anti-doping program or not? Bluntly, without an OOCT program with teeth, you won't have one.  I don't know about commissioners, but I doubt I have gone a week in the 11+ years I have been EMD when I haven't had an owner, trainer, or someone else inside the industry complain that we weren't doing enough to control doping. This is a major step forward for horse racing —if horse racing wants to have a real anti-doping program. 

Tomorrow, the Congressional hearing for H.R. 2651, the 2017 Horse Racing Integrity Act will take place in Washington.  What message is the CHRB and the California racing industry going to send to Washington for tomorrow's hearing?

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