Special Report

Written and Researched

April 2011


Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Historical Aspects

Part 3: The Inception of Drug Testing

Part 4: Drugs and Their Actions

Part 5: Policies and Tactics >>

Part 6: Class 3 Drugs — Performance Enhancing or Not?

Part 7: Class 4 Drugs — Harmless Therapeutics?

Part 8: The Unclassifieds

Part 9: The Call for Reform

Part 10: Who Rules?



Part 4: Drugs and Their Actions

IN THE late 1960's and early 70's a policy of "permissive medication" banned elsewhere in the world was adopted in North America.

The legalization of drugs brought with it continuing crises that to this day plague the North American racing industry. 

Wherein the measure was intended to legally regulate the limits of drug administration for therapeutic use, instead it has created a culture of clandestine alchemists who scheme to gain advantage at any expense.

Wherein the measure was intended to legally regulate the limits of drug administration for therapeutic use, instead it has created a culture of clandestine alchemists who scheme to gain advantage at any expense.

Effectively all Thoroughbreds in North America race on drugs. The carnage is simply a derivative of economic gain and profit margins.

Over the course of time, a systematic drug classification for horse racing was developed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) which is reviewed on a semi-annual basis. [1]   The principal rationale for developing the Uniform Classification of Foreign Substances was to educate racing regulators (e.g. stewards) in the relative performing-enhancing effects of the more than 750 agents that have appeared in forensic samples of race horses. [2]

Attaching an actual number to the categorical inappropriateness of a drug makes it feasible for the layperson to comprehend the degree of impropriety of any drug or medication they may encounter.

Table 1 outlines briefly the drug classification scheme established by the RCI.

Table 1. Uniform Classification of Foreign Substances
Source: http://www.arci.com/druglisting.pdf

Class Therapeutic Use Performance Enhancing Effect Description Examples
1Not acceptedHighPotent stimulant or depressiveOpiates, Amphetamines
2Not acceptedHighNervous and cardiovascular stimulants, and depressive neuromuscular blockersCaffeine
3UndecidedModerate to HighBronchodialators, anabolic steroids, high level diuretics and sedativesWinstrol
4Yes but with potential of abuseModerate to LowCorticosteroids, relaxants with no CNS effects, NSAIDS higher than established limitsPhenylbutazone ("Bute")
5Yes but with concentration limitsPossibly but controlled by limitsPrimarily localized action but regulated by concentration limitsRanitidine ("Zantac")

There is much to say about this classification scheme and its ability to effectively regulate the administration of these drugs to racehorses — none of it positive from the perspective of the horse. It is yet again manipulation in its most flagrant form — an authoritative and ostensibly medical foundation for the categorization of potentially harm-inducing medication simply to permit the usage of drugs without reservation.

A list of the most common permissible and habitually used drugs will cast doubt on their efficacy of promoting welfare to the horse. According to some, the three most widespread performance-enhancing drugs used today are; anabolic steroids (Class 3), corticosteroids (Class 4) and "milkshakes" (bicarbonates — not categorized but regulated by a threshold). [3]  This is by no means an exhaustive list as there is a myriad of drugs routinely used to enhance the physical health of the typical racehorse.

What it does point out however is a glaring contradiction between what is, by and large, perceived to be performance enhancing and what is actually classified as performance-enhancing. As per the recommended guidelines outlined by the ARCI, both corticosteroids (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID) and bicarbonates belong to categories seemingly benign. So what is the more appropriate assessment regarding these medications?

Moreover, how is it possible to group anabolic steroids in the Class 3 category — "undecided" — may or may not be therapeutic use? It is common knowledge that they are performance-enhancing drugs that build muscle and confer improved endurance. Anabolic steroids carry with them reputed risks and should only be administered to horses who suffer from chronic wasting conditions.

If this is the case, these ailing horses shouldn’t be racing in the first place. This begs the question as to why anabolic steroids are even tolerated in NA racing. After all, these guidelines were created to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs while promoting therapeutic treatment. Or were they?

"The ban on anabolic steroids proved that when this industry works collaboratively, game-changing progress can be made in a short period of time," Phipps said. "We need more of that spirit of cooperation and a greater sense of urgency". [4]

It is simply a joke — ban them — but list them as Class 3?

A minor misdemeanor in the racing world — a proverbial slap on the wrist — is a sinful and self-propagating endorsement for actions instrumented to camouflage the ugly truth. And to think this is only one example of the hundreds of noxious concoctions fed to these vulnerable creatures.

Apart from the Class 1, 2 and 3 drugs with a predisposition to performance-enhancement, there is an increasingly more insidious side of drug use in North American horse racing that is now attracting much attention from racing officials due to the negative publicity it garners from fans, bettors and the rest of the global racing industry.

Two drugs in particular have become ubiquitous, both of which are categorized as therapeutic and are legal in most jurisdictions. These are none other than Salix (Furosemide formerly known as Lasix) an anti-bleeding medication and Phenylbutazone (PBZ) or "Bute", one of the three NSAIDs permitted in controlled quantities on race day by the NTRA (National Thoroughbred Racing Association).

Salix, a powerful diuretic, can be legally administered four hours before a race to horses that have been documented with a history of bleeding. [5]   On the other hand the administration of "Bute" is prohibited within the 24 hours before post time for the race and is controlled by plasma threshold concentrations.[6]  No other country in the world permits race day medication nor do they allow horses to run on the threshold levels permitted in North America.

Prior to discussing the effects these drugs have on the Thoroughbred and ostensibly the fine line that divides the terms performance-enhancing and therapeutic or for that matter unsafe, it is worthwhile considering a compilation of rulings documented by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) for 2010 and 2011 to date.

Since the beginning of 2010 there have been approximately 600 drug infractions in the 38 racing jurisdictions in North America which, by the way, lack standardized drug testing or legality.

Although the RMTC record is not complete as the list is subject to information available through public disclosure, it nonetheless provides an overall representation of the common drugs detected as well as those that are generally less frequently discovered in forensic samples.

Table 2 outlines some of the more common drug violations. Keep in mind that this represents only a small percentage of the actual number of drugs that comprise the list.

Table 2. Drug Violations in Thoroughbred Racing (2010-2011)
Source: http://www.rmtcnet.com/content_recentrulings.asp

DrugClass CategoryUses
Phenylbutazone (Bute)4NSAIDMusculoskeletal inflammation
Furosemide (Salix)N/ADiureticAnti-bleeding (EIPH)
Flunixin4NSAIDMusculoskeletal inflammation
Methocarbamol4Muscle relaxantSkeletal muscle spasms
Triamcinolone Acetate4CorticosteroidAnti-inflammatory/immunosuppressant
Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO)5SolventTopical analgesic
Omeprazole5Proton Pump InhibitorGastric acid suppressant
Ranitidine5Proton Pump InhibitorGastric acid suppressant
TCO2 (Milkshake)N/ABicarbonateCounteraction of lactic acid in muscles
Testosterone3Anabolic SteroidBuild muscle mass
Boldenone3Anabolic SteroidBuild muscle mass

Many of these drugs are used in combination without known effects on the physical health of the horse while others not mentioned occur less frequently but are more potent and can have serious lasting side effects particularly when given habitually over the longer term. What’s more is that many of these powerful drugs, although effectively banned, are now controlled by threshold concentrations meaning that they can be administered to horses as long as there has been a sufficient withdrawal period such that traces of the compounds do not show up in samples pre- or post-racing. A carefully orchestrated approach prompted by the "zero tolerance" issue for allowance of the more potent medications.

Clearly the use of some of the drugs reminiscent of old has gone by the wayside due to increased surveillance as a result of pressure from global competition and overall disdain for unregulated performing-enhancement drugs.

Nevertheless North America has failed miserably. The drivel dispensed by the authorities should fail to convince even the uninformed.

"In fact, almost all drug positives being called are of the minor variety. So far in 2010, there have been over 400 medication-related rulings against Thoroughbreds in the United States, according to information collected by the ARCI and available on website of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry research group. Not one positive has been called for a Class 1 drug, the most serious, and only four Class 2 Thoroughbred violations made the RMTC list." [7]

They are not missing the point. Rather they are transparently circumventing it.

What has happened in the downward spiral of horse racing in North America is that drugs inappropriately classified as therapeutic have superseded what once was accepted practice, and now substitute in great quantity what other more dangerous drugs accomplished in lesser concentration. Why?  Because these are the accepted rules, and punishment is typically inconsequential. Play by the rules and reap the benefits with minor expenditure and penalty. The innocuous Class 4 drugs function most conveniently, as tokens of blamelessness.

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