by Doug McCoy

Trainer Michael Gorham is frustrated with slow drug tests. Photo by www.Hoofprintsinc.com.

Trainer Michael Gorham. Photo by www.Hoofprintsinc.com.

It looks like the troubled partnership between LGC Sports Science and the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission (DTRC) will come to an end at the conclusion of 2014.  The Commission voted Wednesday to begin the process of terminating its contract with the beleaguered laboratory, which has been at the center of several controversies since it began testing samples from starters at this year’s Delaware Park meeting.

That move cheered horsemen.

“The horsemen are pleased the Commission has taken steps to correct what has been a tough situation for all involved,” said Mike Gorham, president of the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

The Commission retained LGC this year to be in compliance with the new uniform medication policy crafted by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) and adopted by the Commission.  One of the pillars of that program is the hiring of testing labs accredited by the RMTC.

Yet the changeover has not gone smoothly.  As reported in The Racing Biz last month, the turnaround time for samples taken from horses that raced at Delaware Park this season has been much longer — as much as seven weeks in several instances, up from seven to 14 days in past years — than in past years when the Commission employed a different lab to do its testing.

The problem has been especially acute where initial findings indicated a “cloudy” test (which means there could be the presence of one or more various therapeutic medications but the levels of those medications could not be quantified) that  required further testing.

While the testing dragged on, purse money earned by those horses with cloudy tests was frozen pending a final test report; if a horse with a cloudy test had been claimed out of the race in question, that money was also frozen.

That put a squeeze on many trainers and owners, particularly those with smaller operations.  This policy also affected the jockeys racing at Delaware Park, some of whose earnings were also frozen.

To alleviate the problem, the horsemen, riders and Delaware Park management worked out an agreement that permitted those purses to be made available pending final test results.

“We’d like to applaud Delaware Park for working with us to allow purse money to be released so our membership could have the funds they need to operate and do their jobs,” said Gorham.

But LGC’s turnaround times did not improve.  For example, a test from a race on May 26 was finally cleared on August 2, while a test from a race on June 18 didn’t clear until August 4.

During the August meeting of the DTRC, commission chairman Duncan Patterson reported the Commission, like the horsemen, was unhappy with the performance of LGC.  Not long after his remarks, the DTRC adopted  a motion to have its attorneys begin the process that would lead to ending the contract with the testing laboratory effective at the end of 2014.

“The Delaware Department of Justice will be in contact with LGC regarding our contract with them, and we will proceed from there,” explained John Wayne, executive director of the DTRC.

Delaware isn’t the only state that is experiencing problems dealing with its testing labs. On August 1, the West Virginia State Racing Commission voted to send 40 cloudy samples to a lab in California for “emergency testing” after the lab the state had employed since 2006 failed to complete the accreditation process by the West Virginia deadline. Meanwhile, the purses of the horses involved have been frozen.

Another serious issue involving the new medication policy and the testing procedures continues to be the accuracy of information regarding withdrawal guidelines for various medications.

Following a trio of Robaxin positives first reported by The Racing Biz — two to Hall of Fame conditioner Jonathan Sheppard, one to Delaware Park regular Scott Peck, who did not have a single prior ruling against him, according to ThoroughbredRulings.com — questions arose about whether the recommended 72-hour cutoff time for the medication was sufficient, particularly if Robaxin is used in conjunction with other medications, a condition which was not tested during the creation of the recommended withdrawal times.  (Stewards have handed out rulings against both men, here.)

There is now a warning to horsemen posted on overnights at Delaware Park regarding withdrawal times for Robaxin.  It urges horsemen to consult with their veterinarians regarding time lines to stop administering Robaxin prior to racing their stock.

A similar situation arose earlier this year in New York.  After a spate of positives for flunixin, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, the RMTC increased recommended withdrawal times for that drug from 24 to 32 hours.  That change came as a result of research funded by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Most people in racing agree that the uniform medication program is a big step in the right direction.  One challenge, of course, is getting all of the states on board.  Another — which the RMTC, state regulatory bodies, and horsemen continue to try to work out — is ensuring that it’s workable and consistent.

DELAWARE NOTES

The case of trainer Juan C. Vazquez, who was fined $2500 and suspended for 90 days after an altercation with jockey Trevor McCarthy following the fourth race on June 23, will not be heard until the September meeting of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission after a new attorney for the trainer requested and was granted more time to become more familiar with the facts of the case.

The Vazquez matter was on the agenda of Wednesday’s commission meeting.  But John Wayne, executive director of the Commission, said Thursday that an attorney contacted him earlier this week to inform him that he had just been retained by the trainer to represent him and as such, had not had sufficient time to study the case.  The decision was then made to move the Vazquez matter to the agenda for the September meeting of the body.

Vazquez was handed the penalties by stewards at Delaware Park on June 26 but appealed the ruling, thus bringing about his scheduled appearance before the commission.  In the meantime, he is leading all Delaware trainers with 26 wins at the meet, five more than Scott Lake.

Doug McCoy has been a racing writer and chartcaller since 1972. He retired in late 2013 after 23 years with Equibase and continues to write for the Daily Racing Form and The Racing Biz.

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