By Eric Hamelback
As a horseman tasked with navigating the complex political waters on behalf of many of the horsemen and women of horse racing, I am in constant search of positive news in our great industry. We regularly are assaulted with unflattering reports which don’t provide all the facts, including “bad” tests and the perceptual blurring of lines when necessary, therapeutic medications are proclaimed by some as performance-enhancing drugs.
Thankfully, the ever-increasing sensitivity of our testing laboratories provides the technology for identifying substances that might unfairly impact the outcome of a horse race. However, this extreme sensitivity within laboratories also provides the ability to detect substances associated with inadvertent environmental exposure at insignificant concentrations in our horses–concentrations shown scientifically to have no effect on our athletes, but nonetheless detected. Many owners and trainers have suffered from significant sanctions for such exposure. These results are often so low they could not possibly reflect nefarious behavior, nor would the findings have bearing on a race’s outcome.
The good news is there is constructive work behind the scenes, even if it rarely makes the headlines. I want to applaud the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for taking a step toward separating innocence from guilt, making a giant leap for all of horse racing. In the last year, there have been three dextrorphan positive tests in horses racing in Kentucky. While “dextrorphan” is a mouthful and a substance which sounds anything but innocent, it is actually a breakdown product of dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in many over the counter cold remedies such as Nyquil. In the last few days, the KHRC has taken the unprecedented step of dismissing the three recent dextrorphan positive tests, deeming them inconsequential based on recent research. I want to encourage commissions across North America to take notice.
Research performed at the University of California, Davis, by Dr. Carley Corado and others was published September of 2016. While the KHRC could have taken the approach the presence of any foreign substance represents a violation because of the absolute insurer rule, this Commission took the high road. The Corado paper clearly shows the breakdown product, dextrorphan, can be identified in urine well beyond a time frame to have any effect on the athlete. The levels identified in the three dextrorphan positive cases in Kentucky could not possibly be consistent with anything other than inadvertent environmental exposure to a groom or other horseman/woman suffering from a cold.
The entire National HBPA salutes the KHRC for working to distinguish right from wrong. In this current regulatory environment, too often any laboratory finding–regardless how insignificant it may impact the horse–results in a commission levying fines, disqualifications and suspensions. That’s inevitably followed by negative headlines, which then drags all of horse racing through the proverbial mud.
This time, however the headline is positive and represents a major victory for all industry stakeholders. It is time to separate meaningless laboratory findings from true cheating and get back to the business of growing our industry and working toward meaningful uniformity. Thank you KHRC for taking the lead, and let’s hope other commissions follow in your footsteps.