Racing’s future challenged
by increasing drug use

Mar 13, 2007 2:51 AM

Pity my old friend Peter Fuller of Boston. Back in 1968, his bred and raised son of Native Dancer, Dancer’s Image, came from last place to win the Kentucky Derby going away by one and one-half lengths under the brilliant guidance of Jockey Bobby Ussery.

But three days later, all hell broke loose when the stewards announced that Dancer’s Image victory was being reviewed following a report that laboratory analysis had determine that his blood contained evidence of Butazolidin, a prohibited drug.

Butazolidin, familiarly referred to as "Bute" around the nation’s racetracks, is now so common that nearly every race horse that goes postward today has been treated with this analgesic.

As just about every arthritis sufferer can attest, Butazolidin is a pain reliever, not a performance enhancer.

Despite Fuller having spent several millions of dollars by challenging the official ruling in hopes of keeping the famed trophy he was awarded on that first Saturday in May, the record book now lists Calumet Farm’s Forward Pass as the official Kentucky Derby winner of 1968.

And the blemish on Fuller’s years of outstanding contributions to the thoroughbred sport apparently will never be eradicated. Witness: Fuller’s homebred Mom’s Command, winner of the 1985 filly Triple Crown and selected as the Eclipse Award winner for that year, has failed to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Today’s problems with doping in the horse racing industry are far more serious than what was experienced nearly four decades ago with "Bute."

Performance enhancers such as "milkshakes" and the drugs EPO and Aminorex are cluttering the headlines.

At last week’s gathering of both thoroughbred and harness racing executives in Hallandale, Fla., the subject of "integrity" was examined with Richard Shapiro, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, asking, "I wonder where the conscience of racing is many times.

"We (the regulators) don’t have the tools and we don’t know what to look for," he lamented.

The reason laboratories have trouble detecting drugs that are being used by nefarious owners, trainers and backstretch workers is because the drugs they utilize are usually a couple of steps ahead of regulators.

The practice of pouring a mixture of milk and baking soda down a horse’s throat to give him an extra boost during the race was finally banned a couple of years ago in nearly all jurisdictions after tests were developed.

Said Hugh Gallagher, Delaware regulator, "Research on blood gas levels, for example, has shown us that 80% of the positive tests point to 20% of the trainers."

Was that an indictment of "20% of the trainers?"

He also touched on EPO, a blood doping means that also has been attributed to human athletes.

EPO, short for Erythropoietin, is a protein hormone that acts on bone marrow to stimulate red blood cell production. And it was in common use for some time before blood tests were developed.

And now, the drug that has the racing industry stymied is Aminorex, a drug that has been described as a "cousin of methamphetamine." It was developed in the 1980’s but methods to detect it in horses weren’t implemented until 2004.

Positives have turned up in a number of racing jurisdictions including Ohio, where it was first detected, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ontario, Canada. In fact, two of Canada’s leading drivers were recently sidelined by officials because of the detection of Aminorex in their horses.

In discussing Aminorex at the Florida confab, Dr. Scott Waterman, director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, described some unusual aspects to the recent positives. "Some have been from the usual suspects, but some have come from those, people tell me, are absolutely trustworthy, and there doesn’t seem to be a reduction in them."

EPO and Aminorex are a far cry from "Bute" but that doesn’t help one of New England’s most outstanding and upstanding horsemen, Peter Fuller.

As hard as Fuller tried to change the ruling, Dancer’s Image will always retain his "DQ" designation.