Saratoga County

Horsemen pony up funds for steroid testing

More accurate tests for anabolic steroids in New York racehorses are on the way, thanks to money fro
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More accurate tests for anabolic steroids in New York racehorses are on the way, thanks to money from horsemen who will forfeit $1 million from purses to fund new laboratory equipment and help for backstretch employees.

The state Legislature passed a bill this week allocating the money for steroid testing, which is still a hot issue three weeks after the trainer of Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown said he hadn’t given the horse a monthly steroid injection since April. Some people in the industry speculated that the drugs were Big Brown’s ticket to winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before he faltered in the Belmont Stakes.

The state legislation allows the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to take $1 million from purses this year. NYTHA will give half to Cornell University to buy new testing equipment and pump the other half into programs to improve the lives of backstretch workers.

Racehorses’ blood and urine are currently drawn by state Racing and Wagering Board personnel and track employees at the track before and after each race and sent to a Cornell testing laboratory, said Richard Violette, NYTHA president.

The state currently requires a urine test for steroid detection, but that test is more expensive and labor-intensive than testing plasma, said Alan Foreman, general counsel for NYTHA and chairman and chief executive officer of the national Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The urine test also is not as accurate.

The new equipment will allow Cornell to test horses’ plasma for steroids, and as a result, the state will be able to make plasma tests for anabolic steroids the new standard.

“It’ll be the best testing available for this area,” Violette said.

Foreman said the new equipment will also be sensitive enough to detect blood doping agents and performance-enhancing proteins.

“There are drugs in the marketplace that you can only find at very low levels using the most sophisticated equipment in plasma,” he said. “That’s why it’s important.”

Dr. George Maylin, an associate professor of toxicology at Cornell, will establish the appropriate levels for steroids. After that, the state can put corresponding rules in place about how much of the drugs are allowed in a horse’s bloodstream before a race.

Violette expects new rules to be in place next Jan. 1.

NYTHA already donated $50,000 to Cornell last year and early this year to start that process, he said.

Each state establishes the permitted levels of various drugs for racehorses, but getting new equipment to more accurately test for them is costly.

“Laboratories only have so much money, so much equipment,” Foreman said. “We test for 40-some drugs on a routine basis.”

Currently, horses are allowed to race as long as they haven’t had a steroid injection in the previous seven days. After Maylin does his work, Violette expects a 45- or 60-day withdrawal time to be the rule next year.

“Technically, right now, you can use steroids in New York. They’re made for horses,” he said.

Foreman said he doesn’t believe steroids played a role in Big Brown’s good performance and his ultimate defeat, noting that all of the Triple Crown racehorses submitted to a “supertest” before the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in which they were tested for all of the illegal substances and found to be clean.

“I don’t believe that illegal drugs were an issue in the Triple Crown races,” he said.

The other $500,000 taken from the purses will beef up NYTHA’s funding of backstretch education and well-being programs, including dental care, scholarships, English as a second language classes and health education.

“There’s a whole litany of things that we try to do to try to make their lives as good as possible,” Violette said.

The NYTHA board of directors will be responsible for deciding how the money is spent.

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