36th Asian Racing Conference panelists discuss status of doping control policies in racing


The sixth business session of the 36th Asian Racing Conference in Mumbai asked panelists and delegates to consider whether or not the industry was succeeding in offering drug free racing.

Kaoru Obata, Presidential Counsellor, International Affairs, for the Japan Racing Association served as chairman for the session while Andrew Harding, the Secretary-General of the Asian Racing Federation and Executive Director, Racing Authority for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, acted as moderator for the panel discussion.

“The experience of other sports illustrates that even the strictest doping controls can be defeated,” opened Mr. Obata. “No sport can ever be complacent and racing is no different.”

Addressing the key question of whether or not racing is succeeding in eliminating the use of drugs in the sport, Louis Romanet, Chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities concluded in the affirmative. This assertion arises out of the clarity lent by new anti-doping policies which concern the control of medications developed in recent years. Amongst these policies include the international screening limits given to laboratories by racing jurisdictions for reporting positive cases of therapeutic substance overages along with uniform detection times provided as advice to veterinarians to guide clients.

“Doping control is not a static issue,” Mr. Romanet noted, “we must always be ready to refine our strategies where necessary.”

Enforcement of Article 6 of the IABRW clearly outlines the IFHA’s total ban on raceday medication, described Mr. Romanet, “Thorough records of treatments and procedures must be maintained and available for inspection, while the career of a horse must be defined from the commencement of training to final retirement.”

Dr. Brian Stewart, Head of Veterinary Services for Racing Victoria and Chairman of the International Group of Specialist Racing Veterinarians spoke specifically of the need to change the culture of racehorse medication. “The abuse of medication and the perpetual search for a supplement that has the same effect as a potent doping agent, but is somehow legal, is a problem for all sporting codes,” said Dr. Stewart. “We live in a culture that accepts that pharmacological enhancement to achieve youth, beauty, happiness and sporting success is normal and even desirable. This seems to be a deeply ingrained part of the human psyche.”

But in the face of powerful incentives, namely money and glory, Dr. Stewart continued, the aim for some competitive advantage is as natural as it is problematic. “Individuals seeking to win, by whatever means and at whatever cost, have undermined public confidence in sport in general and racing in particular for decades. It has to change. Too often in our need and desire to ‘help’ horses (and ourselves) we try to substitute pharmacology for horsemanship,” Dr, Stewart added. “This is usually to the detriment of the safety, welfare and durability of the horse. It is important that we formulate policies and regulation that encourage preventative medicine, patience, scientific conditioning, rehabilitation and recovery rather than short cuts to mask problems or to provide short cut ‘boosts’ to performance on race day.”

Dr. Jenny Hall, Chief Veterinary Officer for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) advised on the appropriate role of veterinarians within the stables, and how they interact with regulators. “The appropriate role of vets is multi-faceted. What I do believe we can all agree on is that the appropriate role of vets in stables is definitely not that of team doctor, in the role of Michele Ferrari, his most famous client being Lance Armstrong, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency made it clear with a lifetime sports ban,” said Dr. Hall.

“The regulator needs to provide the framework that supports the ethical treatment of horses. This includes experienced, credible regulatory vets practicing, an inclusive out of competition testing programme, the monitoring of medication records, and the documentation of medication and supplements present in stables,” Dr. Hall continued. “It is really important that the regulator has an integrity unit that is readily accessible. It is more difficult all the time to pick up new drugs, and an intelligence-led environment is a benefit for all.”

Terry Henderson, the Director of OTI Racing and Bloodstock based in Australia, addressed the owners’ perspective relative to drugs in racing, and began by highlighting a stark difference between their ownership experience in Australia and Europe. “Our vet bills in Australia are four times larger than our vet bills in Europe. Vets in Australia virtually have a free hand to operate within the stables. Vets must invoice owners directly, that will solve half the problem,” said Mr. Henderson.

As to how the industry can improve going forward, Mr. Henderson added, “at the heart of the matter is really the training of trainers. Unless we see a break in the nexus, budding trainers will learn and copy from their masters. In Australia, it is fairly easy to go from being a stable hand one year to a trainer the next. If the industry in Australia can take control of the education process, then the chances of instilling integrity in trainers can be enhanced.”

Addressing the developing trend of gene doping, Dr. Teruaki Tozaki from Japan’s Laboratory of Racing Chemistry cited the need for racing to define a potentially growing threat while coming to terms with its potential impacts. “Gene doping has not been clearly defined in this industry, said Dr. Tozaki. “Therefore, many different people may have their own concept of what defines it.”

Dr. Tozaki asserted that the racing industry should classify the topic as “abuse and misuse of gene therapy,” as horses are likely to see the introduction of exogenous genes to promote healing. “While there is testing on these and gene therapy is being used to help with fractures, laminitis and osteoarthritis, these introductions could lead to eventual abuse.” Given these developments, Dr. Tozaki recommended doping control researchers expand their ranks to include geneticists, and not just chemists.