Ahead of Charles Town Race's centerpiece stakes card Saturday, featuring the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, a number of trainers say they have concerns about the track's receiving barn. Charles Town has seen a rash of positive tests for naproxen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (the human form is sold as Aleve). According to rulings reports on the West Virginia Racing Commission's website, which are current through April 3, the track has seen seven positives for naproxen since Nov. 1.
Trainer John Robb, who received one of the overages, says the total number of naproxen positives since December is now 10, and one trainer has now been notified of multiple naproxen overages. Robb believes the majority of affected horses ran out of the receiving barn.
Overnights for Friday and Saturday contained a notice saying the receiving barn will not be open for training due to maintenance. Robb said he and other horsemen were told samples were taken from the barn for testing, but the results of those tests have not been released.
“The Commission is aware of claims by some trainers that there is 'contamination' in the receiving barn at Charles Town,” said Kelli Talbott, senior deputy attorney general in West Virginia. “The Commission is actively investigating that claim and taking precautions, although no conclusions have yet been reached about the credibility of those claims.”
Talbott said horses shipping in this weekend to run in the Classic and the Sugar Maple Stakes will not be sent to the receiving barn.
“The receiving barn is in the process of being pressure washed/thoroughly cleaned and dried out in advance of any other horses shipping in and being located in that barn for Saturday races,” said Talbott, who declined to comment further until the investigation has been completed.
West Virginia has adopted the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules for drug classification, penalties, and multiple medication violation rules. Under these rules, naproxen is a Class 4 substance, denoting it as a “therapeutic medication routinely used in racehorses.” Model rules do not state a threshold level for naproxen, which means no amount is permitted in post-race samples.
Levels of naproxen in the seven positive tests with published on the commission's website varied in concentration between 96.6 ng/ml and 6.3 ng/ml in blood tests. Robb, whose horse Nice Try tested with 11.8 ng/ml after a race in March, questions whether concentrations so low could even have an impact on the horse. He successfully fought a naproxen overage in 2012 in Maryland, and was told during that case the pharmacologically significant level of naproxen in a horse's system is 1,000 ng/ml. In Robb's experience, trainers don't usually give naproxen as part of pre-race preparations because it's known to linger in the body longer than phenylbutazone and flunixin. Naproxen and phenylbutazone also have a reputation for being an especially tough combination for horses' stomachs. He is confident Nice Try did not receive naproxen within 10 days of the gelding's race.
“These levels are so small. They're definitely trace levels,” Robb said. “It seems like any magazine you pick up nowadays, including the Horsemen's Journal this week and the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred last week, there are big articles in there about receiving barn contamination.”
Robb is in the process of appealing his ruling and has been granted a stay.
Joe Funkhouser, vice president of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, is skeptical horses could be picking up naproxen in receiving barn stalls.
“We had our local vet look into it,” said Funkhouser. “There's no way [it could be contamination], in his opinion, because if a horse was given naproxen and it urinates in the stall, and another horse goes in the stall, it would already have been metabolized. His opinion, he didn't think there was anything there, but we've let the racing commission know and the state vet know there are some claims.”
Funkhouser does wonder whether the recent pattern of overages is a sign the equipment at Industrial Laboratories, which conducts post-race drug testing for the state, has recently been modified to become more sensitive.
“Nationally we've supported NUMP (National Uniform Medication Program) but there's certainly a lot of room for improvement in the standards for the screening level,” said Funkhouser. “We want uniformity. We've got to get the ARCI a little bit better in terms of the thresholds and what is really a positive … now the science is so advanced, it comes down to such a small quantity.”
The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council voiced its support for the institution of screening limits at a meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission last week.
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