Drug test steps faulted

State au­dit’s re­view of Gam­ing Com­mis­sion cites in­com­plete sam­pling at Saratoga har­ness track

Albany Times Union - - FRONT PAGE - By Wendy Lib­er­a­tore

In a re­port that makes spe­cific men­tion of the Saratoga Gam­ing and Race­way’s har­ness track, the state Gam­ing Com­mis­sion is be­ing told it must do a bet­ter job fol­low­ing re­quire­ments on drug test­ing of horses.

The state comptroller’s re­port said the com­mis­sion, which over­sees the safety and health of horses run­ning on the state’s 11 tracks, should de­velop poli­cies and pro­ce­dures on post-race drug test­ing and ensure they are fol­lowed and re­ported on.

The au­dit comes as a Gam­ing Com­mis­sion re­port on equine safety is ex­pected to be re­leased by the end of the year. The num­ber of horse deaths re­ported at the Saratoga Race Course in 2016 and 2017 — 16 and 21, re­spec­tively — had prompted the com­mis­sion to ini­ti­ate that re­port, the au­dit noted.

“The Com­mis­sion lacks com­plete writ­ten poli­cies and pro­ce­dures to guide its staff on cer­tain daily func­tions, in­clud­ing vet­eri­nar­ian in­spec­tions, drug test­ing and lab­ora-

tory stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures,” the re­port read. “Con­se­quently, many (about 21 per­cent) of the writ­ten pro­ce­dures we re­quested were cre­ated in re­sponse to our au­dit re­quests.”

Drug-test­ing pro­ce­dures, the au­dit said, are in place but not al­ways fol­lowed. The au­dit pointed to Saratoga Gam­ing and Race­way. Au­di­tors said, dur­ing an eight-day, 92race re­view, it found that two horses a day did not get the re­quired drug test.

“On three of the four days (35 races), only the win­ner was drug tested for each race, but no other horse,” the au­dit con­tin­ued. “On the other day, of­fi­cials sam­pled only the win­ner for 5 of the 11 races.”

The rea­son drug test­ing pro­ce­dures need to be strictly fol­lowed, the re­port ex­plains, is be­cause drugs “of­ten mask pain or pose health risks” to the horse; their ad­min­is­tra­tion near race days puts the horse at risk for in­jury.

No one at Saratoga Gam­ing and Race­way re­sponded to a re­quest for com­ment. How­ever, the Gam­ing Com­mis­sion’s re­sponse to the au­dit, writ­ten by Act­ing Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Ronald Ochrym, said there is “no miss­ing or untested sam­ples due to lack of record keep­ing or de­fects in the ap­pli­ca­ble pro­ce­dures for col­lect­ing and test­ing race horse sam­ples.”

When asked to ex­plain the dif­fer­ence be­tween the au­dit and Ochrym’s re­sponse, Gam­ing Com­mis­sion spokesman Brad Maione said he could not com­ment. But he pointed to Ochrym’s com­ments on how horse rac­ing deaths have de­clined by 30 per­cent since 2012.

In the same writ­ten re­sponse, Ochrym told the Comptroller it is in­ap­pro­pri­ate to com­bine health and safety func­tions into one pro­ce­dural man­ual be­cause there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween what the track vet­eri­nar­ian and the com­mis­sion do.

“The ex­am­in­ing ve­teri­nar­i­ans do not have any re­spon­si­bil­ity or du­ties re­lated to post-race drug sam­pling and test­ing,” Ochrym said. “The com­mis­sion does not con­duct thor­ough­bred pre-race ex­am­i­na­tions or test sam­ples. The lab­o­ra­tory per­son­nel have no re­spon­si­bil­i­ties or du­ties re­lated to ex­am­in­ing horses or ob­tain­ing sam­ples from horses. For that rea­son, these should

be and are sep­a­rate doc­u­ments ap­pro­pri­ate for the or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als who per­form those spe­cific func­tions.”

The au­dit also said there is no uni­form way of record­ing equine deaths and in­juries; and that rou­tine scratches of­ten end up in the pub­lic data­base. At Saratoga Gam­ing and Race­way all scratches, even ones that were not rec­om­mended by the stew­ard or vet­eri­nar­ian were recorded in the data­base.

Com­par­ing race­ways, it found that from Jan. 1, 2014 to April 23, 2018, Saratoga recorded 181 in­ci­dents while Mon­ti­cello recorded 71. Mon­ti­cello did not record the rou­tine scratches, like Saratoga did, the au­dit found.

Scratches, the re­port said, may in­di­cate pre­exam con­trols are work­ing well, show­ing that lame­ness or in­jury is be­ing de­tected be­fore rac­ing.

“These dis­tinc­tions are not read­ily ap­par­ent in the data,” the au­dit says.

The re­port said the har­ness track has since stopped record­ing pre-race scratches. This comes with the com­mis­sion’s bless­ing, which also agreed to “dis­con­tinue use of the data­base to in­clude rou­tine scratches.”

The com­mis­sion also agreed that it would cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive data­base “when prac­ti­cal” on drug use in the sport. Cur­rently, the Gam­ing Com­mis­sion’s web­site in­di­cated, the only al­low­able med­i­ca­tion on race day is furosemide or Lasix, which is a di­uretic that pre­vents bleeds. The com­mis­sion also re­stricts times when cer­tain drugs can be ad­min­is­tered be­fore a race.

A Gam­ing Com­mis­sion of­fi­cial, re­spond­ing to a state au­dit on drug test pro­ce­dures, says there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween what the track vet­eri­nar­ian and the com­mis­sion do.

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