Back in the good old days (the 50's and 60's), when a thoroughbred race horse could run 20-35 times a year, performance enhancing drugs weren't discussed much. Were they out there? Yes. But were they used by many? Most likely not.
Testing for drugs using saliva didn't begin until the 1934, and drugs like cocaine were allegedly used prior to that. Sir Barton allegedly raced on it (nicknamed "hop").
Mostly though, horse racing was tainted by rumors of trainers drugging heavy favorites not to run so fast, so that the insiders could cash a ticket on the second choice.
But it seems trainers have always looked for an edge (check out the ads in Horse Trainer Magazine, there is a smorgasbord of legal products that claim to heal horses or make it possible for them to have peak performances).
Using the Google timeline resource, you can see there are quite a few stories from the 60's about drug violations in horse racing. Coramine (a stimulant) seemed popular back then.
In 1968, Bute (phenylbutazone) made headlines when Kentucky Derby winner Dancer's Image was DQed after he tested positive.
Science has changed a lot since then, on the good side, making testing for illegal drugs more precise, but on the bad side, allowing for junior chemists to come up with non testable performance enhancing concoctions and methods, including concoctions that will mask illegal drugs.
The RCI has come up with over 800 illegal substances. Masking some of these, or using some of these that may not be tested for in certain jurisdictions might just be the in thing to do these days, if you are a trainer who may want a higher win percentage.
There are four categories of Performance Enhancing Drugs (from Wikipedia):
Among the equine stimulants are amphetamines, as well as the amphetamine-like drugs such as methylphenidate (Ritalin).
Horses can also be medicated to win by relaxing them, and allowing the horse to run its best possible race. The widely used tranquilizer acepromazine, and any number of related or equivalent agents, have been used in this way. Of course, higher doses of tranquilizers can also decrease a horse's performance.
Improving a horse's "wind" by opening its airways through the use of bronchodilators may also improve performance, especially in an animal that is sub-clinically broncho-constricted. Some bronchodilators can also have a stimulant effect.
Veterinarians certify horses as being sound in "wind and limb." Obviously, medications that can affect these parameters and also the "attitude" or "behavior" of a horse have the potential to affect both the presentation of a horse and also, presumably, the outcome of a race.
I did a post a couple of years ago which listed the most likely common drugs being used today illegally:
Many states have no laws regarding anabolic steroid use on horses, but there has been an aggressive change in attitude lately with New York and Kentucky leading the way to their banning.
Why ban anabolic steroids? Because they artificially build up a horse's strength and because they have been known to have adverse long term affects, at least on humans.
Using bicarbonates (milk shaking) on horse cleans up the lactic acids that are produced naturally in horses. Less lactic acids help the horses chances to run faster and longer.
As an aside, I was talking to a harness trainer who told me that he complained about the turnaround a horse had to another trainer. He said that the trainer of that improved horse must be milk shaking, to which the other trainer replied "he bought my old bicarb machine, do you need one?"
Many jurisdictions try to test for excess bicarbonates in the blood stream. There are probably still many ways around getting positives.
Propantheline bromide relaxes muscles and increases blood flow.
Benzoylecgonine is a bi-product of cocaine and results in a horse being less fatigued during a race.
Darbepoetin-alfa which is a major ingredient in the prescription drug Aranesp® is becoming as notorious in Ontario as EPO (see below). The drug increases blood flow and reduces anemia. Long term side effects are thought to be similar to that of EPO as well.
Erythropoietin is probably the most talked about illegal drug that is thought to be used in many jurisdictions including Ontario. EPO has a bad rap associated with it besides being an illegal enhancer, it allegedly can cause horrible long term side effects like an immune mediated anaemia and even death.
What EPO does in a nutshell is increase the red blood supply which increases oxygen capacity within the horse's circulation.
For more about the devastation EPO does to the horse read this.
ETORPHINE And MORPHINE
Etorphine (aka elephant juice) has analgesic tendencies that are 1000 times more powerful than morphine. This drug is used to immobilize elephants. For some reason analgesics even in small doses act as stimulants in animals like horses and cats. FYI from Wikipedia: "Veterinary-strength etorphine is fatal to humans; one drop on the skin can cause death within a few minutes."
This drug is common in dentistry on humans for local anesthesia. In horse racing it used nefariously as a pain killer that also can constrict blood vessels which reduces bleeding.
AKA Viagra, yes, Viagra. Viagra opens blood vessels which enriches muscles which is thought to enhance racing performance.
SNAIL AND SNAKE VENOM
In an article over 3 years ago, Andy Beyer mentioned the strong rumour that trainers were using cone snail venom in synthetic form as a pain killer on horses.
It is used to deaden nerves and has been around at least since 1978 when Alydar allegedly was treated with it.
Back in 2005 a vet admitted to injecting vodka 75 times at $15 a pop. The vet called this a "pre-race adjustment" on the bill. Using vodka might be more prevalent at tracks with low purses.
I have to add Pig Juice (Nitrotrain) to the list. Ray Paulick wrote a piece about it recently.
It is described as a potent, short acting oral anabolic steroid.
SHOCK WAVE THERAPY
Like many other treatments, shock wave therapy can promote faster healing, but it can numb a sore horse's pain. Many jurisdictions do not allow a horse to be shocked more than 5-7 days prior to a race, but this can be very difficult to enforce. And it can't be tested for.
The 2011 Super Trainer's drug of choice (at least according to many rumors) allegedly is Myo-inositol-trispyrophosphate (NormOxys) aka ITPP.
ITPP "makes the hemoglobin in blood release more of its oxygen, enhancing physical performance in a swift and powerful way."
HYPERBARIC OXYGEN TREATMENT
I've saved the best for last. I'm hearing more and more about Hyperbaric Chambers. Yes, these chambers do promote healing in horses, but there seems to be a lot of evidence that trainers are using these chambers to enhance performances of horses. It is legal, by the way, but should it be?
Treatments cost between $200-$400. So don't expect trainers at Fonner Park to be using this method.
It seems to have at least the same effects as milk shaking. Here is a claim on how it helps human athletes:
How Oxygen Therapy Increases Endurance and Relieves FatigueHere is a claim made by Equineox Technologies:
Oxygen is essential to athletic endeavors of any sort because it facilitates the production of glycogen, one of the main sources of muscle energy. In a process called glycolysis, a glucose (sugar) molecule is broken into two pyruvic acid molecules. A pyruvic acid molecule enters the muscle cell, where it combines with oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the source of muscle energy. When insufficient oxygen is present to create ATP, the pyruvic acid becomes lactic acid. This lactic acid naturally diffuses to the bloodstream, where it is carried away. However, during intense exercise, the lactic acid cannot be removed quickly enough, and it collects in the muscle cells, causing fatigue.
Mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy provides greatly increased oxygen saturation throughout the body, allowing the body to get the oxygen it needs to create ATP for energy and flush out the lactic acid that causes muscle fatigue. The elevated oxygen levels help athletes increase performance and recover more quickly after a workout. In addition, increased oxygen delivery to the brain facilitates brain function and enhances an athlete's ability to make the split-second decisions that can make a difference in the outcome of the game.
Racing Taken to a New Level
New clients in Canada are affording us the opportunity to prove the benefits and value of our hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers to Thoroughbred and Standardbred owners and trainers. The treatments will be used on current in-training thoroughbred and standardbred horses to enhance post race recovery time. By speeding the healing of injury due to the wear and tear of racing (i.e. lung and microcirculation damage), the well being of the horses with allow them to race more frequently, at higher levels.
The jury is out on how many days a treatment is good for, or if the treatment masks other drugs as well.
One human study indicates that maximum power intake as well as maximum oxygen intake improved by 7%, 9 days after using oxygen therapy.
I'm not sure how many lengths that is worth, but maybe just enough to re-break in the stretch and win at 7-5.
NYRA recently put a ban on using hyperbaric chambers less than 7 days prior to a race. There is definite concern.
Lets say this kind of treatment does enhance performance. Wouldn't that give someone working at the backstretch gates of a racetrack a pretty good edge. I'd like the info on which horse gets signed out for a while and comes back to race, or horses racing "off the farm." You know, "swimmers," etc.
When horses are away from the track, it is a lot easier to inject cobra venom too.
Hyperbaric chambers and cobra venom. That might account for some high trainer averages we see.
Are racetracks doing their job and monitoring the sign outs and those horses who come in off the farm? Or are the insiders keeping it hush in order to try to cash a few more bets?
The big question is should hyperbaric oxygen treatment be allowed period?
Here is a video of a horse in a chamber:
A good discussion with a horse racing perspective can be found here. I'm with the guy who wrote that this treatment as well as "tapping" should be public knowledge. Put it in the racing form at least.
The same day drug ban the RCI is looking to achieve within 5 years is only a small step in the right direction. Not even a baby step. More needs to done, and sooner not later.
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