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Drug Testing By The Numbers

Published: August 14, 2013 2:58 pm ET

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"Those who consistently promote the concept that horse racing has a bigger problem than other sports are doing do a disservice and potentially damage racing’s efforts to compete in the marketplace.”

Racing Commissioners International (RCI) President Ed Martin said today that all professional sports are challenged by those who would cheat by using performance enhancing substances. But Martin said horse racing “gets a bum rap” from those who ignore the numbers and overlook the fact that the sport does not permit athletes to compete under the influence of a prohibited substance with permission from a medical professional as other sports do.

“Horse racing has the most expansive drug testing program of any professional sport,” he noted. “Racing tests for more substances at deeper levels than anyone else. And we do not permit therapeutic use exemptions for stimulants, opiates, hormones, narcotics and a host of other substances as is the practice in a number of other sports.”

“This does not mean there is not a problem in racing or other sports. We all have the same challenges,” he said.

At the annual Albany Law School Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming Law, Martin said that the appearance to some that racing has more of a drug problem than other sports may result from the fact that there are over 96,000 individual horse race contests each year compared to approximately 2,475 MLB games, 1,275 NBA games, 1,275 NHL games, and 275 NFL games.

“There’s a lot more activity in racing and a lot more drug testing going on,” he said.

Martin noted that drug test results in horse racing are in line with results from testing done by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

“Based on information in USADA’s 2011 annual report, 8,204 USADA tests were conducted and 99.65%[1] of the results were ultimately determined to be without violation,” he noted.

Racing commissions in the U.S. conducted over 21 times more drug tests than the USADA in 2011. An RCI survey of the 301,769 samples tested conducted that year revealed a similar result: 99.59% were found to have no violation.

Of the samples tested, there were 1,244 “positive” findings. Of those 75% were for substances deemed to have the lowest possible effect on performance according to the RCI Uniform Classification Guidelines (i.e. Class 4 and 5), but violations nonetheless.

“Of all the horse races conducted in 2011, no horse was found to have run with a Class 1, 2 or 3 substance in its system 99.68% of the time. People can believe whatever they want, but these are facts,” Martin said, noting “that’s not to say be we don’t have cheaters, every sport does.”

Martin said that horse racing, like other sports, is challenged by emerging substances used by some to cheat as well as unscrupulous efforts to circumvent the lab. “Focusing our efforts on intelligence and research is essential,” he said, noting that in the high profile sport-doping cases like BALCO and cyclist Lance Armstrong the lab had been initially circumvented and human intelligence and tipsters were essential.

“Even though our standards are tougher, the challenge is the same regardless of sport. There always will be some people who will break the rules to try to get ahead,” he said.

Horse racing does not grant Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) as are allowed by the USADA program. The only substance RCI permits to be given on race day is furosemide and its use is disclosed to the public in the racing program.

By comparison, the USADA’s 2011 annual report indicates that 422 requests for therapeutic use exemptions were made and the agency granted 43% of them. Specific information - name of athlete, competition, and substance allowed - is not disclosed by the USADA.

The RCI statistics are based on information provided the association by individual state racing regulatory entities. The 2011 numbers break out as follows:

  • There were 24 Class 1 violations -19 in flat racing[2] and 5 in harness racing
  • There were 50 Class 2 violations - 28 in flat racing and 22 in harness racing
  • There were 233 Class 3 violations - 174 in flat racing and 59 in harness racing
  • The overwhelming majority (834) of violations involved Class 4 substances - 562 in flat racing and 272 in harness racing
  • There were 103 Class 5 positives - 85 in flat racing and 18 in harness racing


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