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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Standardizing Drug Testing and Who Pays for It

By now, you are all familiar with the dueling press releases of SOA of NY President Joe Faraldo and Jeff Gural, operator of Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in New York (yes, he is going to operate the Meadowlands, but they don't count for purposes of this latest letter). Gural has released another press release regarding the difference in testing between Pennsylvania and New York and how a test for steroids can't be done in New York since the harness horsemen have refused to pay for testing equipment as the thoroughbred horsemen did.  My aim here is not to takes sides in this on-going exchange between these two protagonists, but to illustrate how testing for medication is different in each state.  You can read the entire press  release here.

As a matter of background, the reason this issue came up is when the Cane Pace had to be moved to Pocono Downs due to the recent flooding, some horsemen would have had to scratch out of the event if Pocono Downs and the PAHRC did not agree to accept the New York medication standards for drug testing since the field was already drawn in New York anticipating the race would have been contested at Tioga Downs,  A debate then broke out between Gural and Faraldo over drug testing and why a looser standard was used in New York, in particular for steroids.

The following is an excahnge between Dr. George Maylin and Jeff Gural regarding the difference in the drug testing program between New York and Pennsylvania.  Dr Maylin has been involved with drug testing for the State of New York.


In response to your query regarding drug testing in New York compared to Pennsylvania, there are several factors that must be considered as to why the horsemen did not want to have the samples tested in PA.
The first factor is the difference in drug rules between the 2 jurisdictions. New York has had a long standing withdrawal time for various drug classes whereas in PA these same drugs would be illegal at any level. Methocarbamol (Robaxin) is an example. Anti-ulcer drugs and corticosteroids are another. There is now movement at the national level to establish thresholds and withdrawal times similar to New York rules and PA will be "forced" into compliance by national organizations.

A second factor could be anabolic steroids. New York was "forced" into adopting a threshold for anabolics in urine by the RMTC/ARCI. The rule should have been for blood tests. Anabolics can be administered close to racing and not reach the thresholds in urine. In blood, the same administrations would be violations. The RWB (New York Racing & Wagering Board) has attempted to change the anabolic rule but apparently the request has not been approved by the State Executive Offices. Until the rule is changed in this regard, anabolics will be used closer to post time in NY than they are in PA. Any rule change must be approved by GORE.

A third factor has been the lack of sufficient analytical instrumentation to test for the anabolic steroids in harness. A liquid chromatograph/ mass spectrometer/mass spectrometer (LC/MS/MS) that costs about $400,000 is required. We have had one to test thoroughbred samples because the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA) purchased one for their exclusive use. The NY harness horsemen have showed no interest in such a purchase and use. Morrisville has underwritten a lease agreement to purchase a LC/MS/MS to test for anabolics in harness. The instrument cost is $461,000 and is being installed this week. For purposes of comparison, the PA Lab has 14 LC/MS/MS instruments and NY will now have two.

The major reason for the disparities listed above is the funding for drug testing in NY is the same in 2011 as it was 10 years ago. It is ridiculous that the RWB (New York Racing & Wagering Board) cannot get funding for drug testing to keep up with the drug problem. Division of Budget (DOB) is just not concerned with horse racing. DOB gives no credit to the RWB/Morrisville who saved over one million dollars by moving from Cornell to Morrisville last year.

Everyone wants the best drug testing available but nobody wants to pay for it. It is a problem that plagues racing in the US, not just New York.


As you can see in this letter, drug testing between the two states is different.  Why?  Partially because the states have different withdrawal times for some medications; partially because no one, including the state wants to pay for the necessary equipment which would allow for the testing of steroids.  If the New York Division of Budget allowed the savings achieved from moving the testing from Cornell to Morrisville last year those savings could have been reinvested in the equipment necessary for testing of steroids.  Unfortunately, like in many states, racing is low on the totem pole, so the state took those savings back and used it elsewhere in the state budget.

This problem is not just a New York problem.  Racing has become the ugly stepchild in many states.  Some states have cut funding to racing or makes racing pay for their own testing.  Any increase in testing would require a contribution from someone; the problem is no one wants to be that someone.

There should be one uniform standard for medications nationwide so there would be no confusion for horsemen.  More importantly, someone is going to have to pay for any upgrades to the testing standards.  In my opinion, the additional cost of testing should ideally be shared between the racetracks and horsemen but the sad fact is most racinos are unwilling to pay; that leaves the burden for the additional expense on the back of horsemen.  Fortunately, this additional expense can easily be paid by taking a small percentage of their purse account. 

Is it unfair to have the horsemen pay for it?  Not really, since it isn't the tracks that use performance enhancing or illegal drugs.  It is sort of like back when you were in elementary school.  One child does something wrong in class but he/she won't own up to it so the whole class suffers.  In this case, some trainers are cheating and all the horsemen must pay for the wrongdoing of the few.

So let's move past the exchange of letters and press releases and standardize medication testing throughout the United States and have those horsemen in racino states pay for the equipment needed;.  Let's face it, the amount needed to update and purchase new equipment is not that big in the grand scheme of things of slot infused purse accounts; costs can be reduced by having regional testing centers instead of each state duplicating testing centers.  The real world is not fair, everyone (with regards to horsemen) have to pay for the misdeeds of the few.


Harry Lare said...

Why take only a percentage out of the purse account???
Why not take a percentage out of the USTA dues that Horseman are required/forced to pay??

Let's face it, with no governing body where all of North America goes under the same rule and hit's the cheaters hard with lifetime bans and monitors where those horses go.(Beards) it doesn't matter.

Pacingguy said...


The USTA does perform an important role in racing even if they are not regulators. They maintain the racing records and the stud book,and lobby for the standardbred industry amongst other things so the money being paid by members are not wasted.

Secondly, not every state requires USTA membership in order to get licensed in a particular state.

The lack of a centralized governing body is not the fault of the USTA; our nation gives the individual states the right to regulate the sport and that is why the rules are different. Until the states agree to an inter-state compact to regulate the sport on a national level which unfortunately, some state horsemen groups (such as the one on the east side of the Hudson) oppose giving up state control for fear of getting hurt.

If the time comes when a centralized regulatory agency is developed, perhaps it will be the USTA.