horse doping drugsA few years ago, I read The New York Times #1 bestseller Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand and eventually watched the 2003 movie about the horse that surprised the racing establishment. I couldn’t help but cheer for the undersized depression-era racehorse whose victories raised the spirits of the nation.

 

Lack of Consistent Anti-Doping Regulations in U.S. Equine Racing

In May of this year, the horse named American Pharoah made national headlines in the U.S. after winning the elusive Triple Crown; only 1 of 12 winners since the inception of the prize in the early 1900s. About the same time, Congressman Joe Pitts introduced a bill, titled, H.R. 2461 to crack down on race-day doping of horses (link to downloadable PDF on method for analysis of banned substances in horses).

Horse racing in the U.S. is subject to regulations but it varies by state and is poorly enforced. For example, each racing jurisdiction may have its own set of rules; allowing different medications, varying levels of permissible medications, different penalties for violations, different rules on which horses are tested for drugs, and different laboratories to do the testing. Owners and trainers barred from racing in one jurisdiction, simply move their business elsewhere.

While attending the Alameda County Fair Horse races this summer, I was a bit surprised to see the race program reported the use of the diuretic drug Lasix also known as furosemide–the godfather of the modern doping epidemic in horse racing–openly by horse. In European horse racing, all forms of doping and drug use for race horses are banned.

 

History of Equine Doping

Doping of race horses goes back to antiquity: the use of drugs to make chariot horses run faster has been recorded in Roman history. The purpose behind equine doping–often done on horse race day—is to not only enhance performance and mask injuries but also to get unsound horses on the track.

In one week, a single horse may be injected with pain killers and anti-inflammatory compounds to enhance pain thresholds, as well as hormones and diuretics to reduce blood pressure while minimizing pulmonary hemorrhaging as a result of overexertion.

 

Current State of Equine Doping

Molly K. Hooper of the online The Hill website has commented, “When a horse is using performance-enhancing drugs or medicine to mask the pain, often they will run injured. When a horse injures or breaks a leg, that’s a death sentence.” Congressman Pitts said about the American horse race world, “It’s an uneven playing field, it’s not fair. It switches the odds in favor of people who are cheating.”

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In February 2015, the British Horseracing Authority published enhanced Equine Anti-Doping Rules after an extensive period of development. The rules, which include a zero-tolerance approach to anabolic steroids and several other compounds, was implemented March 2, 2015.

The new British policy specifies that a racehorse must not be administered an anabolic steroid at any point in its life and that any horse administered an anabolic steroid will face a mandatory stand-down period from training for 12 months and will be ineligible to start in any race in Great Britain for 14 months.

 

Testing for Equine Doping

In the U.S., Dr. Scott Stanley, Professor and Chief Chemist at the Maddy Laboratory at the University of California at Davis, takes the responsibility of testing for horse doping drugs seriously. He and his laboratory chose one of our Orbitrap Mass Spectrometers (Thermo Scientific Q Exactive Orbitrap mass spectrometer) to provide the requisite speed, sensitivity, stability and accuracy required in changing and dynamic field of science.

A number of antidoping laboratories continue to deploy GC tandem mass spectrometry and LC tandem mass spectrometry depending on the laboratory goals and needs. As international and national agencies, such the WADA, USADA, FEI , BHA and others continue to demonstrate usefulness of new technology, equine laboratories should be in a place to meet whatever regulatory changes are deployed.

 

Additional Resources

Visit our online Antidoping community features the latest on-demand webinars, videos, application notes, and more; dedicated to helping you keep sports true.

 

With changing regulations and new horse doping drugs identified, what are the biggest challenges your lab faces and how are you planning to solve them? I would like to hear your thoughts and experiences.