08/29/2014 11:44AM

Lab behind on drug tests for three states


LEXINGTON, Ky. – A backlog of incomplete post-race drug tests at a widely respected laboratory in Lexington has sent regulators scrambling to get the work done while underlining the growing pains associated with the industry’s move to adopt stricter rules on therapeutic medications.

The laboratory, LGC Science, conducts post-race drug tests for Kentucky, Delaware, and Indiana and is headed by Dr. Rick Sams, considered one of the foremost authorities on equine drug testing. According to officials, the backlog is centered on confirmation tests for samples that have come up positive for one or more of the 26 therapeutic medications that are newly regulated under the stricter rules adopted in all three states.

The backlog has already led Indiana to reach a short-term contract with a second drug-testing facility, Industrial Labs in Colorado, to conduct its post-race drug tests for five weeks, giving LGC time to catch up. In Delaware, regulators voted in August to cancel the state racing commission’s contract with LGC at the end of the year, although the regulators said they welcomed LGC to bid on the contract for next year and beyond.

“I think [LGC is] being very thorough,” said John Wayne, the executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission. “You can’t fault them on that. But we’ve been really frustrated, to be honest. We want some assurances, and we want to see some penalties involved, some sanctions in there if they’re not fulfilling their responsibilities.”

Sams did not return phone calls this week.

Joe Gorajec, the executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, said the backlog for tests from Indiana racehorses, both Standardbred and Thoroughbred, involves a spate of positives that need to be confirmed. Gorajec would not say whether the positives were for therapeutic medications or for performance-enhancing medications but said, “There will be a large number of positives called at the end of our season” in late fall. The positives are from both Standardbred and Thoroughbred horses, Gorajec said.

The positives in Indiana are also not related to cobalt administrations, which will be the subject of a meeting of the Indiana commission Thursday. The commission recently ordered tests on 354 post-race samples from Standardbreds, Thoroughbreds, and Quarter Horses to test for cobalt concentrations – which turned up 21 results in excess of a proposed threshold level for the mineral – but those tests were done by a different laboratory.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said at a recent meeting of the commission’s rules committee that LGC officials have assured the commission that the backlog will be taken care of by the end of September. The Kentucky commission was the first to contract with LGC in 2011, shortly after the state-of-the-art lab was opened under the name HFL Sport Science.

According to officials, the backlog is in part related to the new medication rules, which require laboratories to determine the concentrations of the therapeutic drugs in any sample that indicates the presence of the drug in initial screenings. Under the new rules, the 26 medications cannot appear above certain concentrations without drawing a penalty, requiring LGC to conduct time-consuming confirmation tests.

Apart from concerns about the possible abuse of performance-enhancing medications, the backlog indicates that veterinarians and trainers are having difficulty adjusting to the new medication rules, either because of unfamiliarity regarding the proper dosage and withdrawal times for the medications or a refusal to break with treatment regimens that led to the new rules in the first place, according to officials.

At the same time, the officials said that LGC was not prepared for the amount of work that would be required to conduct the confirmation tests on establishing the concentrations of therapeutic medications, but that the lab is likely to catch up as its staff adjusts to the workload.