Science, Public Perception Clash on Drug Testing

As the industry continues to grapple with use of medication–legal or illegal–in racehorses, will science or public perception win out?

That debate played out yet again July 20 during the National Horsemen?s Benevolent and Protective

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As the industry continues to grapple with use of medication–legal or illegal–in racehorses, will science or public perception win out?


That debate played out yet again July 20 during the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association summer convention in Colonial Williamsburg, Va. Horsemen suggest they’re caught in the middle given highly sensitive drug tests, varying testing procedures from state to state, and environmental contamination they claim can’t be avoided.


Science says a trace-amount positive for cocaine, a prohibited substance, could be a positive in name only because a horse’s tongue tie may have triggered it with no intent on the trainer’s part. To the public, however, it’s a cocaine positive that fuels widespread speculation of cheating in racing.


“Scientifically, it may be correct and harmless,” Peter Burnett, chairman of the Virginia Racing Commission and chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said during the workshop of the National HBPA Medication Committee. “But to the public, it can be harmful. While we’re in a transition of science, we need to be realistic from a political and fan-base basis and move away from things that can do irreparable damage to the industry

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Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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