Trainers Claim Contamination Causing Naproxen Positives At Charles Town

by | 04.21.2017 | 8:13am
Charles Town Races in West Virginia


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.

  • Peter Scarnati

    Two things jump out here:
    1) If the receiving barn is “contaminated” why aren’t ALL of the positives registered from horses who raced from there, rather than “THE MAJORITY” of them?
    2) Robb claims these are trace levels and “questions whether concentrations so low could even have an impact on the horse,” according to the author. What a surprise – where have I heard that convenient rationalization/excuse before?

    • DeniseSteffanus

      I wrote the in-depth piece that appeared in Trainer Magazine and was reprinted in the Horsemen’s Journal. Here’s how expert Dr. Steven Barker answered your first question:

      Critics ask why positives don’t occur more often if stalls are replete with contaminants. Barker explained that a set of circumstances must occur to produce a positive: The horse has to be exposed to a sufficiently high level of contamination; it has to eat contaminated hay, lick a contaminated surface, or have someone put a contaminated hand in its mouth within a few hours of a race; AND the horse has to go to the test barn.

      “Of course, the other reason is that we don’t test all horses in a race. If we did, we’d probably see a lot more positives,” he said.

      • Peter Scarnati

        You must have misunderstood my first question. I am wondering why all of the naproxen positives registered weren’t exclusively from horses who raced out of the receiving barn. In other words, if the receiving barn was somehow contaminated with naproxen, isn’t it a huge co-incidence that there was a spike of other naproxen positives from horses which did not race out of the receiving barn?
        I was not suggesting that every horse which raced out of the receiving barn should have come up positive for naproxen.

  • I am as “med free” racing as anyone
    however at these levels I. M. O it will most likely not be possible to differentiate between contamination and perposefull administration. With 80% of the human population on some medicine or another (legal and ilegal) environmental contamination during feed packing, harvest ect is a possibility that cannot be totally discouted

  • disqus_wZUB6w9ANy

    I too have little tolerance for cheating , however I have less tolerance for lack of common sense.
    I should admit that I am not sure as I am not an equine vet, but as a physician, I know that naproxen , a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), has multiple detrimental side effects including GI bleeding, dyspepsia/heartburm, renal damage, ?? coronary spasm, ?? worsening bronchospasm in those known to have asthma. It decreases inflammation from arthritis, muscle strain and other conditions (toothaches).
    It may allow an athlete to compete or train that day in less pain/discomfort, but it does not enhance performance. The user will not perform better than it’s baseline by using naproxen.
    Yet it will not hide pain/create euphoria (opiates) that the athlete might then put itself in danger.
    So… why is it tested for? It is not on the WADA list.

    • WADAisajoke

      As far as I can tell WADA doesn’t prohibit any legal NSAID. It also doesn’t prohibit caffeine or tramadol. Therapeutic use exemptions are common for inhaled alpha-2 agonists. RMTC policy is dramatically different from WADA standards.

      • disqus_wZUB6w9ANy

        Got it .Also, just talked to a trainer, who suggested that the use of NSAIDs affects the vet’s pre-race assessment, so I see that it perhaps should be checked in samples, but I do think a threshold should bet set. With stacking, perhaps a a sample w/ 2 different NSAIDs means DQ and a fine, whatever the levels are.Regardless, without solid , effective punishments includng owners ( who can then sue the trainer if apporpriate), the cheaters will proliferate.

    • Ann M. Adam

      I too am not a vet nor a physician of any sort but have a pretty good brain and common sense. I would like to suggest that a horse that races AND has inflammation, WOULD perform better if given naproxen, just as you have written! After all if the inflammation is lessened then so too is the pain but the injury is still there.
      I think it is established that a race hose is more likely to add to injury if proper healing time is not allowed and pain of injury is masked.
      I feel that the point should be that naproxen is approved for therapy use AFTER a race but should NOT be raced until it has cleared the system.
      Wouldn’t the detrimental side effects have MORE impact on the primitive equine digestive system than it does on a human’s?
      Reminder to all: A gelding has less value to a trainer or an owner interested in racing only. The desire to race the horse may take precedence if they are not concerned about a horse’s life after racing.

  • Leroy

    Horse trainers with dirty test results are very similar to convicted felons in prison. If you have ever spent any time talking with inmates many of them will tell you they are innocent, too. It is really kind of sad how nobody rushes to the aid of the inmates or gives credence or a forum for their pleas of innocence but here on the PR the cheats and their pleas of contamination, innocence, etc., are always given a forum and actually receive a whole lot of support from the comments.

  • Steve

    You do not know what you are talking about. The horse are getting contaminated because the grooms are urinating in the stalls because the port a potties are so disgusting they won’t use them. They urinate on the bedding and the horses are ingesting it from the bedding. Contaminates can stay in the stall dirt for up to two years. They are also contained in the wood walls of the stall. Charlestown is averaging 3 positives per race day and most haven’t been disclosed yet pending hearings. If the receiving barn wasn’t contaminated then why did management test it? Results are back and the racing commission and the stewards refuse to disclose the results. Instead now the receiving barn has been closed due to maintenance. What a coincidence! If it is not contamination it must be race fixing. And we all know what happened at Charlestown’s sister track Penn National.

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