A week ago I posted a piece on trainer Roy Sedlacek pleading guilty to the use of a supplement containing the banned Class A drug, AH-7921. In that post I criticized the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) for not being more proactive in the testing of supplements. RMTC sent me a response to the column and that response, unedited, is shown below.
Let me first say that we are on the same page when it comes to illegal, performance enhancing drugs in racing. Ensuring trainers are not administering illegal substances to horses is critical to protect the integrity of racing. While I have (deservedly) taken some of the racing commissions to task for how they dealt with certain medication/drug cases (but have not criticized the test results or testing labs), I have consistently said that trainers who knowingly administer substances with the intent to gain a performance edge should be dealt with harshly. In my recent blog on H.R. 3084 (http://halveyonhorseracing.com/?p=2580) I also supported HBPA, ARCI, WHOA and other groups working in concert to deal with drug and medication issues. A theme in my blogs is that there needs to be a combined proactive effort to educate horsemen about drugs, medications and supplements.
I’m certainly not looking to get into a non-productive back and forth. RMTC had a legitimate point that my blog may have made it sound as if they were doing nothing on supplement testing. Clearly they are, and I have revised the Sedlacek blog post to make that clear. You can make up your own mind whether the efforts they discuss below to test supplements are sufficient.
I certainly had no issue with the testing New York did to find AH-7921 in Sedlacek’s horses, and it’s comforting to hear RMTC is trying to find tests for previously undetectable substances, although nothing in my blog made any criticism of NY or RMTC for their post-race testing work. It was disappointing to hear that RMTC does not issue some sort of public notification every time they detect a new illegal substance, especially because the number one issue for many horseplayers is the perception that there is rampant use of undetectable, illegal substances in horseracing. It may be just my opinion, but knowing RMTC is aggressively responding to the perception is critical to the long term health of the game. How will we know unless they make an effort to get the results of their work out there? If there is one thing that has been consistent in my blogs, it is the need for transparency in all aspects of enforcement.
I would concede that my statement in the blog, “…if they were really serious about cleaning up the sport they would be ordering Lightning Injection and the rest of these unregulated supplements and testing them,” could be interpreted in the extreme as telling them they needed to purchase every compound on the internet for testing. Even if that is the ideal, it may or may not be asking for too much. I’ve revised the Roy Sedlacek blog to make it clear when I am talking about ARCI and RMTC, and have clarified thoughts about testing supplements based on the RMTC comments.
I’m not sure how many supplements there are out there – horseprerace.com listed 373 products, but many of them appeared to be repeats, double listings and size differences, so maybe 150-200 unique products on that site. While I’m not sure the number of products out there is too daunting to put on a regular testing schedule, the RMTC comments did reinforce the point I made about supplements – they are unregulated, often do not contain the listed amounts of ingredients, and can be contaminated. You can test two bottles of the same product and come up with different results. Still, even that is worth knowing for trainers and the public. If you want to minimize the impact of these supplement manufacturers, the best way to do it is to hoist them on their own petards by showing they are inconsistent and possibly dangerous.
We all know there are snake oil peddlers active at racetracks, armed with their own “studies” about the efficacy or safety of their products. It is important for the RMTC to reinforce that they are fighting fire with fire by informing trainers and the public of the testing they are doing. Even the RMTC assertion that of the 100 unknown substances they have tested in the past few years, “[only] three have had anything more than sterile water, preservatives, sugars, and amino acids or various combinations of specially compounded common medications,” should validate a more aggressive testing program because it is just as useful for trainers to know they are snake oil as they contained illegal substances. Trainers are using these supplements because somewhere they got the idea they work, and they’ll keep using them until it is proven they don’t.
Current post race testing yields less than 0.5% positives, and 0.01% positives for Class 1 and 2 substances. The testing of 100 supplements referenced in the RMTC letter apparently yielded 3% illegal substances. It would be absurd to argue that we should substantially limit post race testing, even based on those results, and I would say three out of 100 supplements is also worth the effort, regardless of the difficulties.
I’ll end where I started. The work of the RMTC is a critical part of cleaning up the game, and they are to be lauded for what they do. But I still believe they could do much more, and I still believe we spend far too much trying to catch trainers after the fact, and not nearly enough on proactive, pre-emptive research. At the end of the day, a violation avoided is worth far more than a violation punished. Get the information out there to the public and the trainers about the effectiveness and results of RMTC and it will benefit the game.
As for making a donation, all of us horseplayers are already “donating” 15 to 30 cents of every dollar we bet. I suggest you start by convincing the people that divvy up the booty to give you a larger cut, and if you want my support on that, you’ve got it.
The RMTC response is below.
RMTC Response to Roy Sedlacek Post
I recently read Rich Halvey’s commentary in halveyonhorseracing.com regarding the recent positives called in New York for AH-7921. In response, I would like to take Mr. Halvey’s statements regarding the RMTC to task and encourage him to reach out to us at the RMTC before he posts another misinformed piece.
First and foremost, while it is commendable that the New York Drug Testing Laboratory found AH-7921 in post-race samples, it is certainly not novel or unexpected. Horseracing testing laboratories have been aware of this substance and have been testing for it for several years. Developing methods for finding new substances is a requirement for RMTC Accreditation. As a result, the RMTC Accredited Laboratories are continually working to find tests for previously undetectable substances. Even though a press release is not issued every time a new drug is detected or a new test is developed, that does not mean we are not finding new substances and developing new tests daily.
Second, RMTC does order a myriad of substances that are available via the internet – in addition to those provided to the RMTC by trainers, veterinarians or racing jurisdictions. These are tested for the presence of prohibited substances. Some of the findings are rather interesting so we are not surprised Mr. Sedlacek purchased what he thought was ITPP and ended up with an AH-7921 positive. In the past three years, the RMTC has greatly increased its focus on an area we call Tactical Research. As a part of that Tactical Research, the RMTC has tested:
- Many substances purchased on the internet by RMTC or trainers on behalf of RMTC;
- Several substances anonymously mailed to the RMTC by trainers;
- Over 30 substances confiscated during barn and veterinarian truck searches in New Mexico – in which RMTC staff personally participated;
- Numerous substances confiscated in Florida;
- Two substances confiscated from a barn in Delaware and identified dichloroacetic acid and tadalafil; and
- Individual substances that were submitted by numerous jurisdictions.
Just in the last few months, the RMTC has submitted three substances from three separate jurisdictions to RMTC Accredited Laboratories for analysis. Moreover, the RMTC works with many states and racetracks that are willing to spend their own funds to have substances analyzed in horse racing laboratories. RMTC has developed a protocol that we follow and that we share with others to use in requesting these services.
Of the nearly one hundred unknown substances that RMTC or individual jurisdictions have tested in the past few years, only three have had anything more than sterile water, preservatives, sugars, and amino acids or various combinations of specially compounded common medications. Two of those were for the substances submitted by Delaware. The final one was from a trainer who anonymously submitted a colorless injectable liquid.
In his article, Mr. Halvey suggests that the RMTC purchase every compound on every website for testing. While a portion of our Tactical Research budget is used for that purpose – it is one of the least fruitful areas. This is because the substances on these websites are unregulated, fringe sources. That means that there is no expectation of consistency in the products. Because of this, formulations and additives can change based upon what is cheap, available, or fashionable in the drug maker’s mind. Thus, even testing these products once will be insufficient. This is why we test these substances continuously.
Furthermore, the RMTC does much more with its Tactical Research budget than just testing substances. With Tactical Research funds, the RMTC has funded:
- Research regarding cobalt for the development of an endogenous threshold;
- Research for gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) for the development of an endogenous threshold;
- Development of a dermorphin standard so that all laboratories were able to detect and identify it; and
- Research on hair testing – with the goal of testing for illicit substances using a methodology that allows for long-term detection.
In sum, the RMTC views emerging threats seriously. In the past three years we have dedicated significant time and resources to researching these and other areas of horse safety and racing integrity and with support from across the horse racing industry, we will continue doing so in the future. As for funding these important endeavors, I encourage Mr. Halvey and everyone interested in racing integrity to visit www.rmtcnet.com to make a donation.
Hallie Roach Lewis
Communications & Development
Racing Medication & Testing Consortium