08/25/2010 3:00PM

Illinois Racing Board confirms testing change for etodolac

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The eight recent positive post-race drug tests for the drug etodolac came about because of a change in testing regimen in Illinois, but the veterinarian who administered the drug to horses that tested positive says he has done nothing wrong, and that the drug has been inappropriately classified by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

Six horses in the stable of Nick Canani have tested positive during the Arlington meet for etodolac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, as did single horses from trainers Mike Stidham and Ingrid Mason. All horses were ordered disqualified. Canani has been suspended a total of 45 days and fined $3,000, while Stidham and Mason were given 15-day suspensions and $1,000 fines. The trainers have appealed the rulings with the Illinois Racing Board.

Winners at Arlington this summer have been subject to highly sensitive super tests like those administered in graded stakes competitions, but the etodolac positives were generated through regular ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) tests. However, Illinois adopted an ELISA test specifically targeting etodolac in 2010, according to Shelly Kalita, an attorney for the Racing Board. Different drugs are specifically targeted in different years, Kalita said, and if a drug is subject to a specific ELISA test, a positive can be generated at lower concentrations. Illinois has a zero tolerance policy for Etodolac.

“We can’t be testing for everything all the time,” Kalita said. “This year [etodolac] was put back in. That changes the withdrawal times.”

Dr. James Gilman confirmed the positive tests came in horses trained by clients of his. Gilman said he has treated horses with etodolac for eight years using a five-day withdrawal time and never had a horse test positive.

Gilman, 55 and a practicing racetrack veterinarian since 1986, said he has prescribed and administered etodolac for horses suffering from soreness resulting from edema within the bone in their ankles. Different NSAID’s target different tissues, Gilman said; etodolac’s is bone.

“It is described to the general public as an ‘aspirin-like’ drug, and that’s exactly what it is,” Gilman said.

Gilman said the drug is strictly used therapeutically in conjunction with training regimens and not as a race-day medication.

“It has never been used as a pre-race painkiller,” Gilman said. “It doesn’t have that kind of potential in a horse.”

Etodolac is FDA-approved for use in humans and dogs, not horses. But many other therapeutic medications commonly used at the racetrack have not been specifically approved for horses, and using a drug not FDA-approved for equines is not in itself a violation.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International classifies etodolac as a Class  3 medication on its five-tiered scale (Class 1 drugs are strongest, Class 5 the most benign), but Gilman argues that the drug should fall into Class 4. The ARCI classification system states that Class 3 drugs include “bronchodilators, anabolic steroids, and other drugs with primary effects on the autonomic nervous system, procaine, antihistamines with sedative properties, and the high-ceiling diuretics.” Among drugs categorized as Class 4 are “the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, at concentrations greater than established limits.”

“This drug is meant to help the horses train,” said Stidham, whose positive test with Upperline came after her winning performance in the Grade 3 Arlington Oaks. “There’s no intention to try and help them through a race.”

Kalita, the IRB attorney, said she understood the concerns affected parties had with the sudden spate of etodolac positives, but that the use of any drug illegal even at trace levels on race day carries a risk.

“When you use a drug, you’re using it at your peril,” Kalita said. “If you use it at all, you’re taking a chance that you’ll get a positive.”