As part of the ongoing debate about the future of medication testing and enforcement in American racing, let’s hope out-of-competition testing takes on a greater sense of urgency.
Being able to test a horse at any time serves an important role in finding banned substances that would otherwise go undetected because they could have cleared a horse’s system by race day. More importantly, putting trainers and veterinarians on notice that a horse could be tested with only an hour’s notice serves as a powerful deterrent. Combine out-of-competition testing with a stricter code of penalties and racing could make significant progress toward culling the cheaters from its ranks.
Right now the U.S., compared with other major racing jurisdictions, is way behind the curve on out-of-competition testing.
In a presentation at the recent Jockey Club Round Table conference, Dan Singer of McKinsey & Co. shared the results of an analysis done between various international testing and enforcement programs. Out of all testing conducted, only 1% of samples collected in the U.S. is done outside of race day. By comparison, 21% of tests conducted in Australia are on out-of-competition samples. In Hong Kong the out-of-competition portion is 11% and in France it’s 10%.
New York, California, Indiana, Delaware, Kentucky, and New Jersey are all doing out‑of‑competition sampling for racing, but these jurisdictions still face a number of obstacles preventing their programs from being as effective as they could be.
Among those obstacles is a need to update state regulations so racing commissions have the authority to test for a full range of substances. Also, racing jurisdictions need a system that tracks the location of every Thoroughbred in training. Considering workouts are already publicly recorded at off-site training facilities, it is probably not that large of a technological leap to record the location of every horse in a central database.
The biggest obstacle is reciprocity, getting all states to cooperate with one another. There is substantial resistance on this front, with one state not wanting to give another the authority to collect samples from its resident Thoroughbred population or be required to collect samples for a neighboring state.
But let’s go back to the fundamental goal here: to develop a uniform medication testing and penalty system. Out-of-competition testing is essential toward this goal, and, at the risk of stating the blatantly obvious, we’ll never achieve uniformity if individual states or organizations can opt out of certain provisions or ignore them all.
To be sure, collecting out-of-competition samples will raise the cost of testing because of the additional labor and also because additional samples would need to be taken in order for the system to be most effective. Right now blood samples are typically the only out-of-competition sample taken. McKinsey has recommended adding urine and hair sampling, too.
The additional cost, however, is not prohibitive. McKinsey projected the incremental cost for an independent centralized body to manage all drug testing and enforcement would be about 2% of the current annual purse distribution in this country.
“Here in New York…that amount equates to a little more than what an owner pays for a Lasix shot, and the subsequent electrolyte jug,” noted Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, chairman of The Jockey Club, during his closing remarks at the Round Table.
Most horsemen—pro-furosemide or not—are clamoring for uniformity. They want the playing field leveled, the rules to be clear, and the competition to be fair. So, horsemen: Get in front on this issue and embrace out-of-competition testing. Show state regulators you’ve got nothing to hide and urge them to put out-of-competition testing on a fast track. It’s good for business, good for the sport, and good for the horse.