02/13/2008 12:00AM

Positive response to steroid testing


Buyers at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s select 2-year-old sale on Tuesday embraced the auction house’s offer to test their purchases for exogenous anabolic steroids, requesting the tests for between 15 and 20 of the 89 horses sold.

OBS is the first Thoroughbred auction company to offer steroid testing on 2-year-olds. Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, and Barretts all have committed to offer tests on weanlings and yearlings but not yet at juvenile sales.

Starting with the Tuesday auction, OBS implemented a new policy banning exogenous anabolic steroids within 45 days of a sale. Buyers must request a test at the time of purchase and pay $500 per test, but the auction house will return that cost if a test is positive. Buyers whose horses test positive also will have the option of rescinding the sale.

“The ones that requested testing didn’t specifically thank us for doing it, but buyers are responsible for the cost of testing, which they’ll get back if there’s an issue, so they felt it was important,” OBS general manager and sales director Tom Ventura said. “The number wasn’t overwhelming, but [testing requests for] 15 to 20 percent of the horses is significant.”

Test results are expected back by Friday or Monday, Ventura said. Anabolic steroids can be used for therapeutic purposes, such as to increase appetite in a recovering animal. But they can also be used to build muscle mass in advance of an auction.

“We thought it was the right thing to do all along,” Ventura said of the testing. “We wanted to be sure that the testing was accurate and timely enough that we could enforce this policy. . . . I think all the sale companies want to do the same thing, but they all want to get to the same level of comfort before they put things in.”

Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton were the first companies to unveil a testing policy, applying it to weanlings and yearlings earlier this year. Both say they are working toward a testing policy for juveniles in 2009, as is Barretts. There are several reasons for their slower pace, relative to that of OBS. Keeneland, for example, conducts its 2-year-old testing according to Kentucky’s racing rules, which currently do not ban steroids, said Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell. He noted that the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority is reviewing its steroid policy. Sale companies also have wanted adequate time to inform their consignors and buyers about steroid-related policy changes.

Also, ongoing research suggests a more thorough blood-test and testing parameters – including determining baseline ranges of naturally occurring anabolic steroids in colts and fillies at age 2 – could be available by this fall in time for next year’s juvenile auctions, said Barretts president Jerry McMahon.

“At this point, as I understand it, right now there is a limit to what can be located in a blood test,” McMahon said. “We are going forward with testing in October for our yearling sale and expect to have a policy in place for our 2-year-old sales next year.”

Among concerns are the potentially broad variations in naturally occurring steroids, such as testosterone, in 2-year-old colts, which can make testing and setting baselines difficult. Ventura, of the OBS, acknowledged that steroid testing can be refined. But he feels the OBS policy is a good first step.

“We need a bigger buyer base,” Ventura said. “Whatever we do along those lines can only help. We have consignors on our board, and, as a group, they’re all behind this. There may be certain instances where it’s therapeutic for a horse to have steroids, but the big picture is that everyone understands this is one of those buzzwords in all sports that you’re not going to avoid down the road.”