The Medication Conundrum: Drug Regulation Challenges in the Horse Industry

Learn about the current challenges of medication regulation and drug testing in the race and sport horse industries.

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The Medication Conundrum
Tests for prohibited medications today are more reliable and sensitive. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Current drug regulation challenges race and sport horse industries face

Ernest Hemingway traveled with his new bride to Paris for the Christmas holiday in 1921 and wound up staying there for five years. It was the best place to be during the early 1920s and hosted a rich community of prominent writers. Hemingway filled one blue notebook after another with his writing, and when he had spare time he went to the races. An astute handicapper could make decent money betting, he wrote in A Moveable Feast, especially if a person paid close attention to the “boosted horses.”

There was widespread use of performance-altering drugs, Hemingway explained, but identifying the doped horses in the paddock before a race was difficult. Some—the ones that reacted badly to the drugs—were easy to pick out, but the writer often had to rely on tips from insiders. A rudimentary saliva test to detect a few prohibited drugs already was in use in France by the early 1920s, but hardly ever at the tracks Hemingway frequented. It would be another decade before a modified saliva test made its way across the Atlantic to Hialeah Park race track, in Florida.

By the early decades of the 20th century, horse racing’s drug problem had become the sport’s most poorly kept secret. The Jockey Club, the breed registry for Thoroughbred horses in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, had approved a rule against doping in 1897 but, without a reliable test for illegal drugs, enforcement was problematic and relied on either a witness or a confession. Newspapers railed against the practice, but public indignation was rare. It took the work of a displaced G-man to change things

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Written by:

Milt Toby was an author and attorney who wrote about horses and legal issues affecting the equine industry for more than 40 years. Former Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association’s Equine Law Section, Toby wrote 10 nonfiction books, including national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor. You can read more about him at

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